Restrictions Eased As COVID Infections Are “Effectively Suppressed”

The Chief Minister announced a further easing of restrictions after confirming that COVID infections in Gibraltar had been “effectively suppressed.”

As from this Monday 22nd February, students will return to school and the bus service will resume at 50% capacity. Masks will only have to be worn in the centre of town (as was the case in Autumn) and inside shops and internal public spaces.

Catering establishments will also be able to re-open as from Monday the 1st of March.

More details to be found in the full text of Mr Picardo's speech below:

Good afternoon

Welcome to another live press conference from No6 Convent Place on the issue of COVID- 19.

I hope that today will be the last live press conference on COVID-19 from No6 Convent Place, at least for now

Since I last addressed, you one week ago, four more Gibraltarians have lost their lives to COVID- 19.

That makes the total number of Gibraltarians who we have lost to the virus 88. 81 of those have passed away in just the last 48 days.

All of those who we have lost to COVID will be remembered in our service and in our monument of remembrance.

Despite these four, additional, tragic deaths, today’s news is, however, much better. Today, we’ve only had 1 new case out of 1,330 tests carried out yesterday.

Yesterday, Thursday, we also had only 1 new resident case out of 1,459 tests carried out on Wednesday.

On Wednesday we have had only 1 new resident case out of 1,955 tests carried out on Tuesday.

And on Tuesday, we had only 1 new resident case of COVID out of 657 tests carried out Bank Holiday Monday.

On Monday we’d had 2 resident cases, on Sunday 4 and on Saturday 3.

These are now very, very low numbers of infections.

The R number is now WELL BELOW 0.5.

The infection is effectively suppressed in Gibraltar.

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.

Fortunately, we’ve had no overnight admissions to our Critical Care Unit or to the Victoria Ward at St Bernard’s Hospital.

The overall picture now at St Bernard’s shows 5 COVID patients in the Critical Care Unit all 5 of them ventilated.

I am sorry to have to say that some are deteriorating.

There are presently 6 patients on Victoria Ward, all of whom are stable or improving.

But the fact is that we have made huge progress in pushing down the curve of the new infection rate.

We have seen a great reduction in the numbers of cases requiring hospitalisation. The pressure on our hospital staff has eased considerably.

The good news is that this will mean we can gradually restart some routine activity. We will also allow some very well deserved and overdue staff leave.

And we will also see staff returning to their original departments.

Additionally, and beyond the GHA, we will re-open schools as from Monday.

That will be a seminal moment.

After over two months, our children will finally return to their beloved schools, to learning and to their friends.

I want to emphasise today, as I did yesterday, my express gratitude for the work of parents in their home schooling efforts.

I want to express again my gratitude to teachers for their remote learning work.

I know this has been a hugely challenging time for both parents and teachers.

All have wanted nothing but the best for our children at this remarkably difficult time.

Monday morning will mean a return to the rush of school traffic also, of course.

So I am glad to confirm the resumption of the Gibraltar Bus Company service on all routes as from Monday.

The service will be subject to conditions provided by Public Health Gibraltar of course.

It will be mandatory for all members of the public over the age of 11 to wear face coverings when entering a bus.

Additionally, all members of the public will also be required to follow strict hand hygiene rules both on boarding and exiting the vehicles.

The bus service will revert to the 50% occupancy system that was in place before Christmas.

The school bus service will be operating as from Monday also and will commence at 50% occupancy.

In conjunction with this resumption of the normal route service, the current restricted service for Gibraltar Health Authority and other health support staff will no longer be available as from midnight on Monday.

In light of this remarkable reduction in infections rates the wearing of masks in all areas will no longer be required.

Wearing of masks will, once again, now be required only in the centre of Town in Main Street, inside shops and in internal public spaces, as was the case in the autumn.

Slowly life will now start to return to normal.

Children’s parks will also be able to re-open as from Monday 22nd.

The Government will re-start selling the Lottery on the 1st March.

[At last, I am able to answer the lottery question!]

The first draw will be on 9th March and this will be another step towards some form of normality.

As we hope we are now coming to the end of the worst of these difficulties, I know we will all be delighted to see our schools active once again.

Catering establishments will also be able to re-open as from Monday the 1st of March.

They will be subject to the same restrictions as were in place when they shut down last time in mid- December.

We have today issued a statement containing more guidance on claims for businesses that have had to remain closed for the whole of February, which I know the catering industry in particular will welcome.

The curfew will remain for some more weeks, at least until 14th March, between 10pm and 6am. The Cemetery will once again be open for visits and funerals of groups of no more than 12.

I am also glad to be able to announce that sport will return soon.

The conscientious and responsible nature in which in our sporting fraternity managed the unlocking of sports first time around has contributed greatly when considering the return of organised sporting activity this time.

Therefore, as from Monday 22nd February all sports will be allowed to return as long as they work within the current restrictions on gatherings which limit the numbers of persons who can gather to a maximum of 12.

The GSLA will not be issuing any permits for an extension of numbers permissible beyond that other than those already active.

We are however conscious of the fact that this could be difficult for certain sports in particular.

As such, and all being well, the GSLA will start accepting applications for small extensions to numbers beyond the restricted limit under a permit-based system but not until the 8th March.

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.

Finally, on the 22nd March sports associations will be able to apply for consideration of a return to competition.

The GSLA will consider these issues in consultation with, and on the advice from, Public Health Gibraltar.

We believe this timeline provides a logical and progressive return for those that have been out of action for so long.

More importantly, the scaled and responsible approach has the safety of our community as its foundation.

I can also confirm that we are continuing with our extraordinary vaccination effort in coordination with the United Kingdom.

We are well on the road to covering everyone over 50 already.

We are coordinating with the UK Department of Health and Social Care and with the FCDO to ensure the continuity of supply of vaccine to Gibraltar.

I am satisfied and assured that the necessary arrangements are in place to see that deliveries will continue until the adult population has been vaccinated.

I want to pause there for a moment and ask my fellow Gibraltarians to reflect on the context of the global picture.

130 nations in the world have not yet even been able to administer even one dose of vaccine to any member of their population.

In that context, I know that the whole of Gibraltar will want to reflect on the depth and value of our relationship with Britain.

I also cannot thank our vaccination teams enough.

They have worked as many hours as possible to deliver as many jabs as possible as quickly as possible.

They have done an absolutely incredible job.

In better times, we will celebrate their work and professionalism.

As we will celebrate also the work and professionalism of our MAGNIFICENT GHA and ERS personnel.

As well as the work and professionalism of all our frontline staff.

And we must also find a way to celebrate the work of those Gibraltarians who are abroad but are working in COVID care elsewhere.

Having mentioned some, I continue to get information of remarkable work done by extraordinary Gibraltarians outside of Gibraltar.

Like Dr Vaughan who is practising on the COVID frontline in the UK in the NHS in Worcester.

Or Mr Seymour, who is an A&E nurse in the UK, also in the NHS, where he has been one of the brave volunteers on the vaccines that we hope will return us all to a semblance of normality.

Importantly and despite our most vulnerable now being inoculated and numbers of infections down, the relaxation of restrictions may result in an increase in infection rates in coming weeks.

We just have to understand and accept that.

But we anticipate that the reduction in numbers of cases requiring hospital care will now remain manageable by the GHA.

I will therefore step Gibraltar down from our current Major Incident posture at 6am on Monday 1st of March.

My dear fellow Gibraltarians. We have crossed the Rubicon.

We have seen the spike of infections tamed.

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.

We cannot throw caution to the wind.

We are very close to being able to protect everyone in our community through vaccination.

So please do not bring COVID on yourself or your family or your friends by going out to look for it in Spain.

If you go to Spain, be very cautious.

Please be a little more patient.

Please be a little more cautious before you think that life is entirely back to normal.

Because we are not just relaxing measures today.

We are sharing responsibilities between ourselves, as citizens, to be sensible in protecting each other.

Blanket legal prohibitions will now give way to your right to do more.

But it remains your responsibility to think hard about what you plan to do.

Ensure you plan to act in a way that protects you and your family.

Do not put yourself or your family at risk.

When we shut down in December, there were a number of discordant voices.

We even faced protests outside of No6 Convent Place.

Some thought we were being too tough in our lock down. I believe we did the right thing, in the right way.

If we had not acted as we did when we saw the immediate and dramatic spike in COVID infections, our death toll today would likely be even higher.

So we must remember how numbers rose quickly and dramatically at that time.

We must evaluate the effect of the vaccination programme.

And we must all look out to ensure that our behaviour does not create a vector for new infections.

The responsibility is as personal, as it is communal.

None of us should let the other down.

In coming days and weeks, we will go back to a TEST, TRACE & ISOLATE strategy for those who might test positive.

Please therefore continue to call 111 if you have symptoms of COVID-19.

Public Health Gibraltar at the Contact Tracing Bureau is currently carrying out a post-COVID follow-up 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.

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.

If you have a missed call from this number, please call back, it’s 222 58707

If there are more than one person or people in the house who has had COVID-19 please let the caller know.

At the same time, Public Health Gibraltar is also conducting a Health & Lifestyle survey on a randomly selected basis.

One of the things we have learned from COVID-19 is that the virus prefers to cause damage in those who are already unhealthy.

Services and support can be better designed, if we know how many and how much unmet need there is in our community.

This survey is anonymous which means the answers will never be attributed back to you.

Some of the questions may seem intrusive and personal, but this is so we can address issues that are often hidden in the community.

By completing the interview you will enable us to better understand issues and problems that are present and for which we need to plan better in future.

The last Health and Lifestyle survey was carried out in 2015 and these calls are being conducted by the Contact Tracing Bureau team.

This survey should take approximately 25 to 30 minutes and he contact telephone number to look out for in these calls is 222 58706, that’s 222 58706.

If you have a missed call from this number, please call back.

Input is an important opportunity to help future generations and those with conditions that are new or established.

Please help the GHA plan a better health service for all of us for the future.

Public Health Gibraltar is aware that scam calls are taking place, for example those we saw last week in relation to non-existent vaccine appointments.

But these current surveys are genuine and they are important. Please call the Contact Tracing Bureau enquiry number 200 41818 if you’re unsure about this or have any concerns.

And as we now take another step towards normality, I ask you to remember the basic rules we started with and which have served us so well.

Wash your hands and continue to keep a social distance. And wear a mask where you are required to do so.

Thank you very much for having joined us all these weeks at No6 Convent Place as we’ve been through this extraordinarily difficult period together.

I will now take questions from journalists here at No6 and from those who ask their questions remotely.