With virus ‘effectively suppressed’, Gibraltar poised for cautious return to community life
Gibraltar has “crossed the Rubicon” in its response to Covid-19, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said on Friday, as he announced that the virus was “effectively suppressed” on the Rock and outlined plans to slowly unlock from weeks of restrictions on community life.
In the last of the weekly Covid-19 press conferences, Mr Picardo revealed Gibraltar was at a stage where lockdown restrictions could be eased, schools could be reopened, masks can come off outside the town area and restaurants will be able open – albeit with limitations on capacity - on March 1.
But amid the good news, Mr Picardo warned this would only be sustainable if the public moved forward with caution.
“We have seen the spike of infections tamed,” Mr Picardo said.
“We have seen the number of daily deaths abate.”
“But we must remain cautious though.”
“We are not an island.”
“There are high rates of infections in the areas of Andalucia around us.”
“As a result, different controls remain in place in different municipalities.”
“Please be cautious with any visits to Spain.”
The restrictions that will remain in place aim to curb the spread locally, but by Gibraltarians travelling into Spain the concern is new variants and more infections could be imported.
Some aspects of normal life, however, will be returning.
The wearing of masks in all areas will no longer be required.
Masks will be required only in the centre of town in Main Street, inside shops and in internal public spaces.
Mr Picardo explained masks would remain mandatory in the town area as people are more likely to be closer together due to its geographic nature.
“The accumulation of people in the sorts of proximity that could give rise to the infection passing is most likely to occur in the town area if you are inside a shop as you are not outside, inside the common area of a public building etc,” Mr Picardo said.
He added: “Where people accumulate they are being required to wear masks even if they are in the open outside, and where people are inside in areas that are common, whether it’s in the town area or not in the town area, they are also required to wear masks as there could be aerosol infection.”
Catering establishments will reopen as from Monday, March 1, subject to the same restrictions as late last year.
Children’s parks will reopen as from Monday, February 22, and the Gibraltar Bus Company will resume service on all routes.
The curfew between 10pm and 6am, however, will remain in place until March 14.
The selling of the lottery will resume on March 1 and the first draw will be on March 9.
The cemetery will reopen for visits and funerals of groups of no more than 12 and sports will return as from Monday, February 22.
Sports will be allowed but will be subject to the current restrictions on gatherings which limit the numbers of persons to a maximum of 12.
The GSLA will start accepting applications for small extensions to numbers beyond the restricted limit under a permit-based system but not until March 8.
“I ask that these requests are made by those for whom it is absolutely necessary as permits will only be issued after robust and careful scrutiny,” Mr Picardo said.
On March 22, sports associations will be able to apply for consideration of a return to competition.
The semi-normality returns partially due to the vaccination campaign.
Some 28,778 vaccines have been administered, of which 16,725 are first doses and 12,053 second doses have been carried out.
Mr Picardo said by the middle of next week those in their late 40s should expect to be called for their first vaccinations.
The vaccination programme has seen all the priority groups vaccinated and from now on people will be called for their appointments by age, not by profession.
Gibraltar will be sharing vaccine data and research with countries.
“Sharing our data will be a hugely important part of how the world learns to deal with pandemics of this sort,” Mr Picardo said.
The GHA will also be carrying out a post-Covid review of people who tested positive for Covid-19 some time ago.
The follow-up questions should not take more than 10 minutes and are there to assess if the person has reverted to normal or still has issues.
“By keeping an eye on these continuing problems, the GHA may be able to develop better care, as issues persist or evolve,” Mr Picardo said.
“These calls are being made by the clinicians from the Contact Tracing Bureau who will ask several medical questions and confirm the person’s GHA number.”
The contact telephone number being used for these calls is 222 58707.
Just one case of Covid-19 had been detected from 1,330 tests on Friday.
From Tuesday to Friday, one Gibraltar resident case was detected on each day, resulting in four cases from 5,401 tests had been found.
This low number of infections has seen the R rate - the figure used to calculate the rate of infection – drop to below 0.5, meaning for every two cases of Covid it leads to one.
“The infection is effectively supressed in Gibraltar,” Mr Picardo said.
“We now need to keep it down.”
“The total number of residents with active Covid infections is presently 39.”
“I expect that number to come down considerably over the next 48 hours, as we anticipate some 20 plus recoveries over the weekend.”
There have been no overnight admissions to the Critical Care Unit or to the Victoria Ward at
St Bernard’s Hospital, with five Covid patients in the Critical Care Unit and all five of them ventilated.
“I am sorry to have to say that some are deteriorating,” Mr Picardo said.
There are a further six Covid patients in the Victoria Ward who are stable or improving.
Mr Picardo urged patience and responsibility from the public, reminding that life was not returning entirely to normal.
“We have made huge progress in pushing down the curve of the new infection rate,” he said.
“We have seen a great reduction in the numbers of cases requiring hospitalisation.”
“The pressure on our hospital staff has eased considerably.”
St Bernard’s hospital alert status will be de-escalated to Amber by early next week and some routine activity is set to resume.
In the week since Mr Picardo last addressed Gibraltar in a press conference, four people passed from Covid-19, bringing the death toll to 88.
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