Chief Minister says that Gibraltar has experienced perhaps the “highest spike in Europe, if not the world” and announced that Gibraltar will remain in Lockdown. First vaccines are planned to begin on Sunday with the ‘delayed 2 dose; strategy; the new BEAT Covid 5.0 Measures are rolled out and education news… here’s everything you need to know about today’s press conference.
The Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo today appeared before the press to provide an update 7 days into the Lockdown.
Although there has been a “slow downturn” in the R Rate, from 1.15 – 1.14, the rampage of the Covid pandemic through Gibraltar has now taken a 12th life (a man aged between 70-75), who was reported to not have an underlying health condition.
86 persons living in facilities managed by the Elderly Residential Services (ERS) have been found to be covid positive.
The Chief Minister said: “the continuing high numbers of infections in our community generally and the growth of infections in ERS in particular is extraordinarily worrying…”
Today Gibraltar has recorded 1,209 active cases.
St. Bernard’s hospital continues to be under pressure with 23 patients in the Covid ward and 8 in the Critical Care Unit, 5 of whom are ventilated.
The Chief Minister remarked that the number of positive cases in the last 2 weeks accounts to 33% of all infections detected on the Rock since last spring.
All in all, he described the situation as “extraordinarily worrying”.
In the circumstances, the lockdown will continue for at least the next 7 days, but with no guarantee that it will end any time soon due to the nature of the situation.
Mr. Picardo said that the “positive news” is that, thanks to excellent support from the Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office of the United Kingdom (FCDO), Gibraltar will be receiving the first batch of Pfizer vaccines tomorrow evening, Saturday 9th January 2021.
Due to the fact that the vaccine is required to be kept at very low temperatures, the consignment will be transported to Gibraltar by the Royal Air Force, given that commercial airlines do not have the facilities for such transportation.
He said that the UK authorities shared the Gibraltar Government’s concern about the situation on the Rock, which was experiencing the “highest spike in Europe, if not the world”.
In answer to questions, Mr. Picardo said that the vaccine was not the “silver bullet” and its impact on the pandemic would be revealed in due course, but his general message was that this will get Gibraltar back to “some sense of normality”.
Vaccinations will start from 8 AM on Sunday to be administered to frontline hospital staff, ERS patients at 9 AM and community vaccinations to the most vulnerable from Monday 8:30.
Priority will be given to those who are over 70.
A GHA team has already been in contact with as many of the over 70’s as possible, but if anybody has been missed out, they should visit gha.gi and register.
Mr. Picardo said “it is important that at this time the general public do not contact the GHA for an appointment”.
He asked that those with an appointment should attend “promptly” and if they need to cancel their appointment, they should give ample notice so that the vaccine can be given to someone else.
The Chief Minister praised the Massias family, who own the ICC building, for allowing the GHA to use the former Primary Care Centre for vaccinations at no charge, as well as free parking for those with appointments.
Picardo said that the GHA staff involved in giving vaccinations were the “gladiators who were going to pierce the progress of the virus.”
Gibraltar will be following the same “delayed-dose” strategy as the United Kingdom, which means that, instead of the second dose being administered after 21 days, it will be given over a longer period (possibly 10-12 weeks).
He said that the government was satisfied that this method would allow a larger proportion of the population to receive sufficient immunity quicker.
The Chief Minister hoped that the next supply would arrive in Gibraltar by the end of this month.
The Business Community in Gibraltar
He made it clear that his government was very concerned to ensure that the business community, which is the creator of wealth and the engine for economic growth, was able to survive the pandemic.
He expressed gratitude and words of support to all the components of the private sector, especially those who had had to close their businesses or reduce activity and those others including financial services, gaming, lawyers and accountants, who continued to work under difficult circumstances with no financial support but in compliance with Covid protocols.
Building and construction continue, again in keeping with health protocols.
The Chief Minister reminded that BEAT 4.0 already provides grants of 30% of the original furlough sums and 100% rates relief for the hospitality sector, as well as a 25% discount for early payment of rates by other sectors to extend to the 31st of March 2021.
BEAT COVID 5.0 Measures
The new BEAT 5.0 grants will increase from 30% to 100% for eligible businesses to be used to pay salaries.
This will then revert to 30% when those businesses are allowed to reopen for business, which he said would be “hopefully” be by the end of January.
The rental discount scheme would increase to 50% in the month of January 2021 for businesses which remain closed due to the lockdown restrictions.
Landlords of empty commercial premises will have a full rates waiver until the end of the year.
Any enquiries can be made to firstname.lastname@example.org and full details will be published later today.
The Chief Minister said that schools will not reopen before January 25th, but consideration is being given to reopening St. Martin’s special needs school before this date.
The Department of Education was looking at all options for delivering education to students and did not think that the kind of remote learning which may be acceptable at secondary or university level was satisfactory for younger children and new initiatives can be found at www.education.gov.gi
Special provision will again be made for children whose parents both work on the frontline.
The Chief Minister commented that public cooperation in Gibraltar has been good and that Gibraltarians are by and large a “law abiding people” and that the police had not reported any particular problems.