Coronavirus Gibraltar | Interview with ex-Thomas Cook Regional Director for Africa Middle East, Jon Santos
Already, a number of volunteer citizen groups have been formed on the Rock with the aim of mitigating the effects of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, with the current official figures standing at 1 active cases, 48 test results pending and 2 recovery cases in Gibraltar (as at 17.03.2020).
The Government of Gibraltar has introducd a number of rigorous measures to ensure the slowdown of the rate of infection with the goal of not overexerting the Gibraltar Health Authority, and those over 70 years of age have been advised not to leave their homes.
The Government of Gibraltar has set up a signup form online in which healthy individuals can offer their volunteer services to Gibraltar, please consider enrolling here.
Volunteer groups, as well as many individuals and businesses, have started providing free services to their neighbours and community, such as offering shopping runs and delivery to vulnerable and elderly people who are unable to leave their homes or who are lacking essential supplies.
Promoter of one such volunteer group and think tank (yet to be given a name), Gibraltarian anthropologist, sociologist and ex-Thomas Cook Regional Director for Africa Middle East, Jon Santos is calling for healthy individuals and citizen groups to come together to provide coordinated support to the Government of Gibraltar to mitigate the effects of the virus locally.
“The Government may have its resources stretched as the Coronavirus outbreak spreads in Gibraltar. It’s going to hurt many and unfortunately the ones who are going to be exposed are the elderly and it would be very, very improbable to get out of this completely unscathed…”
“But remember, this is our country and it is our obligation to do right by our fellow citizens.” Jon told Reach Alcance during a phone interview. “We don’t have to have extreme situations like we have seen in Italy, we live in a small country and we can use this to our advantage.”
“When people start falling ill, government resources are going to be strained, and there are citizens that are willing to help.”
Jon Santos has a wealth of experience in dealing with situations of national crises abroad. He spent the best part of a decade as Thomas Cook Regional Director for Africa Middle East, which took him to areas of Africa undergoing upheaval.
His career has seen him having to escape civil wars and uprisings, living in locked down cities, visiting refugee camps and even transporting 200,000 goats across the Sahara.
“I was in Zimbabwe during the economic lockdown, their currency went into freefall and staff had to reprice their produce at supermarkets every half hour or so in order to keep up with the fluctuating currency.”
“Even the agricultural output had collapsed due to land reallocation. Productive farms were handed over to people who were eating the grain instead of planting it; a complete crop failure… It went from Africa’s breadbasket to the brink of starvation.”
Jon does not for one moment suggest this kind of collapse in Europe, but believes that lessons can be learned from these sort of catastrophes.
“The point is, we’re lucky here in Gibraltar. We have the resources to deal with the coronavirus and with planning and unity, we should not suffer any depravation – all it takes is mindfulness, looking out for our neighbours and doing our part to make sure that the vulnerable are being taken care of.”
Despite Government warnings, some limited panic buying ensued in Gibraltar over the weekend as reports of the outbreak exacerbating Madrid’s hospitals and reports of infection were being made locally. Jon told us how, on Friday the 13th of March, Jon was picking up supplies with a friend and came across a mother crying by the baby food aisle at a supermarket because they had run out of baby formula. Knowing the urgency of the situation, they gave the mother a tub of their own baby formula, Jon thinks that we should all do our bit to help those in need.
That said, the supply lines appear to be working well, and shelves were quickly replenished over the weekend as a large number of containers made their way through the frontier.
Groups Must Come Together & Coordinate with the Government
“We need to start quickly, time is of the essence, right now it’s early days so nobody is going to be really suffering but all this needs to be in full swing in a weeks’ time.”
Jon explained that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”, and calls for all voluntary groups and relevant charity organisations to come together to combine their information, manpower and services in coordination with the Government of Gibraltar to ensure that there are no unforeseen negative outcomes.”
“We can, in isolation, think about what people might need, but we could easily miss the mark too, which is why everyone who is capable and available should sign up to the government’s volunteer list.”
“Of course, the government will need to be in charge of the agenda, not us private groups, we may get it wrong. What we should be doing is feeding into the government’s process and say ‘look, we’ve identified x as an area of concern’ or ‘this is an aspect we are overlooking’.”
One aspect that Jon says we should not overlook is the potential for ‘domestics’ and confrontations at home due to being cooped up in quarantine and the stress of the coronavirus situation.
“Look at the “Nobody Deserves to be Forgotten” Facebook support group; let’s use that as a conduit to reach out – domestics have already increased, and they are going to continue to increase due to pressure, fear and being cooped up at home; we could even see an increase in domestic violence (I’m not saying this has happened so far, but these are the things we can’t rule out).”
Controlling Misinformation Online
Finally, Jon warns that misinformation online, be it Facebook or WhatsApp groups, is another issue of concern.
“At the moment people are going to be online and seeing a hell of a lot of information and we need to be sure that people aren’t getting the wrong kind of information. On WhatsApp there was a voice message going around telling people to use hair dryers to breathe in hot air in order to kill the coronavirus. No… that’s going to dry up your mucus membrane which is your bodies first line of defence, and this would make you exposed to this kind of infection.”
“This is a question of getting all of us together to work in a very positive manner. At the moment the Govt has the more complete picture of what’s happening, so we need to work as a unit to get the best possible outcome.”
Interview with ex-Thomas Cook Regional Director for Africa Middle East, Jon Santos | Coronavirus Gibraltar