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‘We stared into the abyss,’ CM says, reflecting on Rock’s Covid-19 response

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo yesterday reflected on the “rollercoaster of emotions” he and his team had faced after being told at the outset of the Covid-19 crisis that up to 3,000 Gibraltarians could die.

Fighting back tears at times, he described how ministers and officials had “stared into the abyss” as they set about steering the community safely through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Picardo was speaking at the final daily press briefing and as the Rock moves into the second phase of easing its lockdown restrictions with zero deaths, only two active cases and a hospital free of Covid patients.

This reality is in stark contrast to early public health predictions of the scale of the devastation the virus was expected to inflict on the community.

At the outset, public health officials feared the virus could kill up to 10% of the population.

“It seems quite surreal to me that we’re sitting where we are sitting today, with the numbers that we are seeing today, with the virus almost extinguished in our community, and no new cases in the past six days,” Mr Picardo said.

“This is frankly remarkable, this is joint work and we are very lucky to find ourselves where we find ourselves today."

“You cannot pretend to imagine what it’s like to look at the possibility that you’re going to lose 3,000 Gibraltarians.”

“Please pause and reflect. That’s 10% of our population. What do we do if we emerge out of this having lost 10% of our population?”

“You have to understand what that does to you. This is literally to stare into the abyss.”

“I don’t think it’s possible, even now as I recount it, to explain what it was that Cabinet was facing.”

“We were establishing niches in the cemetery not because we just felt like it, or we wanted to scare people, but because it was our obligation to have in place a contingency to deal with that number of dead bodies.”

“Was that a gross exaggeration which didn't require this level of activity? In my view, referring you to the position in the UK and Spain and all the developed economies around us, that was what we were actually looking at if we did not take the steps to lockdown.”

“The work we have done has avoided that,” he said, as he underscored that the ‘we’ referred to Gibraltar on the whole.

“So I'm left with the stark fear of facing that potential loss of my fellow Gibraltarians, which I say almost as if it would not have affected me. I mean I could have been one of them.”

“And at the same time the elation of being able to sit here today and to say ‘we stopped this at the gate’.”

Summarising that emotional impact, he said: “Fear, tactic, strategy and elation because of success.”

Asked by reporters to reflect on how tackling the crisis had affected him personally, he said: “It has been absolutely the most difficult thing that I have ever gone through.”

“I’ve got ministers who have been through a lot and I know that this is undoubtedly the thing that has been the hardest for them to do.”

In this regard, he highlighted Cabinet and Opposition support for the measures taken to prevent the virus from “running rife” across the Rock.

This had been, he said, a community effort.

But the Chief Minister also used the opportunity of the final press conference to restate the message that has underpinned every briefing for the past eight weeks, 61 in total during which ministers and officials have answered over 600 questions.

Although Gibraltar’s strategy has proved successful and the community has been incredibly fortunate to date, the virus remains out there.

“There is no room for complacency,” he said.

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