January 29, 2021
Welcome once again to another press conference from No 6 Convent Place.
This afternoon I must start by sadly recognising the death of 14 more fellow Gibraltarians since I last addressed you.
We mourn the passing of each of them.
Every one of them, leaves behind loved ones who have been deprived of them by COVID-19.
Today is actually the last time I will address you in the month of January 2021.
For that reason, I must reflect on the number of Gibraltarians we have lost since the 1st January.
We must remember that we started the year having lost 7 Gibraltarians to COVID.
We end the month having lost, as at midday today, 73 Gibraltarians to COVID.
That is just devastating.
There is no other way to describe that death toll.
66 of our people have been lost in just one month to COVID – with two days of the month still to go.
This is undoubtedly the highest toll in lives arising from one cause in such a short period ever in our history.
I confess that I am, like so many of you, distraught at the monumental loss of life we have suffered in this time.
Of course, we must put those numbers in the context of the international loss of life to COVID-19.
This week I wrote to the Prime Minister to express my condolences on the loss of 100,000 of our fellow Britons in the United Kingdom.
The loss of life in Spain already exceeds 57,000 people.
I have expressed condolences to our neighbours also.
And we must feel solidarity with the loss of life in every nation on the planet.
Here, on our Rock, the loss of one of us is felt by all of us.
We will all have lost a loved one.
A fellow Gibraltarian who we might not have known closely.
But a person we recognise as one of us.
My only hope, my dear friends, is that this is our saddest month.
And that as we say goodbye to January we will leave behind the coldest, cruellest and the deadliest month in the past one hundred years of our collective history as a people. And that we shall never see such a month again.
We will mourn together.
When we are able to gather and congregate, we owe it to our dead to mourn them collectively as a people.
And we will do so in a way that enables us all to join together in that moment of national mourning.We must also mark the lives of those we have lost.
And so, I announce you today that I will bring a motion to our Parliament so that we will, I’m sure unanimously, commemorate this loss of life in a permanent monument to those we have lost to COVID-19.
This loss of life cannot EVER be forgotten.
Overnight the total number of tests for COVID carried out in our community yesterday was 1,223.
Of those 14 have been found to be new positive cases.
11 of those are residents of Gibraltar.
The total number of active cases in Gibraltar is now down to 369.
That number continues to show a downward trend.
The R rate is now calculated by the Director of Public Health to be below 0.5.
At the moment, there are 8 persons in our Critical Care Unit with COVID-19.
All of these are ventilated and some are, sadly deteriorating.
There are presently 16 patients on Victoria Ward, of whom 15 are stable or improving
There are an additional 13 patients on John Ward of whom all are stable.
In our Elderly Residential Services, now only 29 persons remain positive, with the majority thankfully recovered.
Only 3 of those at ERS are presently shown as deteriorating.
Clearly, however, this is an ever-changing picture.
As I stated when I addressed you two weeks ago, the way that the virus has got into ERS will be investigated as part of the inquiry we will carry out into these events.
I do want to say, however, that the fact that we will be carrying out an inquiry does not for one moment suggest that we are blaming anyone in ERS.
I have only praise for those in ERS and the GHA who are working to provide care to our elderly and infirm.
Their efforts have been extraordinary at every level.
I know that is how everyone in our community feels.
Family members of those at ERS, in particular, are full of praise for our doctors, our managers, our nurses, our carers, our cooks, our cleaners and all our staff at every level.
They have all gone above and beyond.
They have all put themselves at great risk.
Before vaccines were even available and before their vaccinations had taken effect.
And the same is true of our intensivists and our GHA staff at every level.
We could not ask for more from any of them.
I have said the same of all our frontline staff.
I will not repeat that now.
But in the same way as the time will come to mourn, so too, the time will come to celebrate the effort, the achievement and the strength of those who have given so much of themselves in this time and generation.
Today, the Minister for Health and the Medical Director have confirmed that the GHA will now DE-ESCALATE FROM state of BLACK ALERT to a state of RED ALERT.
Things are improving.
But we are not out of the woods yet.
At any other time, we would have considered a RED ALERT a state of deepest concern.
Today, I can understand why we might consider a relief after weeks of being at BLACK, the state of RED ALERT.
The GHA has had great demands placed on it.
At the same time as it has been dealing with the extra work that COVID has required, our Health Authority has delivered a brilliant vaccination programme.
In Gibraltar we have now finalised the first dose inoculation of the four most at risk cohorts and the frontline.
12,860 inoculations will have been administered by close of business today.
NOT ONE DOSE on a 6 dose per vial basis has been wasted.
We are now starting to provide the second dose to our four priority categories and to provide the first dose to those at 60 and below by age range.
We will tomorrow receive a further delivery of the Pfizer vaccine for this purpose, once again on the wings of the RAF angels.
We expect that the four most at risk categories and the frontliners will have their second doses in the first and second weeks of February.
Further deliveries are expected in coming weeks, subject of course, to issues with worldwide demand.
The fact that our four most at risk categories will have had their second doses by next week is a key factor in the decisions we have made in respect of all aspects of what we do next.
As John Cortes, the Minister for Education, has already explained, it is this which determined our position on the reopening of schools on the 22nd of February.
The reduction in positive cases is undoubtedly a result of the success of the various levels of lockdown that we have implemented by consensus in Gibraltar.
COVID PLATINUM Command met yesterday to consider all of these issues and the up-to-date data.
Today, I have spoken also to the Leader of the Opposition again in order to agree the measures that will remain in place going forward.
As a result of the reduction in new COVID cases, we will take the following measures as from Monday the 1st February.
Citizens under the age of 70 will be permitted to leave their homes between the hours of 6am and 10pm only.
You should nonetheless work from home if you can.
You should please not leave your home, unless you have to or for exercise, if you can avoid it.
That is our strong advice.
A curfew will remain in place for everyone during the period from 10pm to 6am.
Despite this, we implore you all not to leave home unless you need to.
Citizens over the age of 70 will be required by law to remain at home for the next 14 days.
The only exceptions for the over 70s will be medical appointments, work, shopping for essentials and an hour of exercise.
We will be therefore, re-introducing Golden Hour as from Monday so that the over 70s who wish to can exercise in a controlled environment.
Of course, the over 70s will be permitted to leave their home to attend for their second dose of inoculation.
We will review this STAY AT HOME ORDER for the over 70s in 7 days.
We expect it nonetheless to stay in place for 14 days.
I want you to understand the logic of it.
By requiring our over 70s to stay at home other than for limited purposes, we are ENSURING they get the maximum protection of the precious vaccine.
If we do not observe this, there is a risk that persons who have already had even the second dose of the vaccine will be infected as they do not have the maximum immunity developed in their bodies.
Of course, the same is true for everyone who has already been vaccinated.
Remember you are not at the maximum level of immunity until 21 days after the second dose.
In setting all of these new restrictions out, we understand that we have to balance general and mental health issues also against the issue of COVID.
Health is not a zero sum game.
For those reasons, we are all also agreed that we will open non-essential shops, gyms and beauty salons as from the 1st of February.
We will, however, not permit non-essential retail to operate on Saturdays or Sundays.
Those were the days when we experienced accumulations of people in Main Street at the time of the last unlocking.
To avoid that, we will permit opening of non-essential retail only from Monday to Friday for the first three weeks of the month.
Again, after the 22nd, we believe we may be able to take a different position.
We will review this every 7 days also.
But we expect we will not permit Saturday and Sunday opening until the 27th and 28th of February.
Gyms and sports clubs will be subject to controls and permits that will be issued by the Director of Public Health as was the case when we unlocked last year.
Hairdressers and beauty salons will only be able to operate on the basis of the restrictions in place at the time that we last unlocked.
Catering establishments will remain closed. We do NOT anticipate opening catering again until the 1st of March.
We will of course continue to pay full BEAT to those establishments that are totally closed.
We will continue to assist with BEAT in respect of those that are operating.
Wearing of masks everywhere will remain mandatory as it is now.
The Upper Rock will remain closed to traffic but open to ramblers.
Children’s parks will, however, remain closed for now.
We will review this in 7 days also.
Different arrangements have been made for children with special needs and those will continue.
In respect of children who attend St Martin’s School and the Early Birds nursery, the GHA is making therapists available as from Monday.
The Department of Education is working also on a customised programme running up to Midterm for the next two weeks for those children.
I know John Cortes has met with parents’ representatives of those in St Martin’s and these arrangements are being well received.
For now, no more than two households should gather..
The numbers of people that will be able to gather in a public place will be set at 8.
Places of worship will be able to open for prayer and worship but ONLY in respect of numbers previously approved by the Civil Contingency Office always observing the strictest rules of social distancing and wearing of masks as well as hand-sanitizing protocols.
I should also bring to people’s attention the fact that rules have been hardened in La Linea and the Campo de Gibraltar.
La Linea is in effect in a lockdown.
Catering is closed and exiting and leaving La Linea is not allowed other than for permitted purposes.
I would urge our own people therefore not to seek to exit Gibraltar other than for the purposes that are permitted once you are in Spain and that you should familiarise yourself with to ensure you do not fall foul of Spanish law once in Spain.
Gibraltar REMAINS in a MAJOR INCIDENT POSTURE.
The reduction in numbers has come about ONLY as a result of the implementation of the lockdown we have just gone through.
If we start to behave now as if it is all over, we will throw away the hard work that we have done.
So please be EXTRA VIGILANT NOW.
Finally, if there is light at the end of this darkness it is light provided by science and scientists.
The data from Israel on the Pfizer vaccine suggests it is highly effective even against new strains of the virus.
Despite other disputes, the European Medicines Agency is expected to authorise the Astra Zeneca vaccine today.
And Johnson and Johnson have announced that they expect to seek licensing for their JANSSEN one dose vaccine.
And NOVAVAX have announced a vaccine also, which takes a different approach in its invoking of the relevant protein.
Remarkably, news reaches us of a Gibraltarian being involved in the development of that vaccine, Dr Roy Soiza.
A Gibraltarian graduate of Edinburgh University and now at Aberdeen University.
No doubt we will hear more about his work and the extraordinary work of Gibraltarians who have been involved in the front line of the battle against COVID in health agencies around the world.
Please do not assume we are aware of all of their stories.
Contact my office and let us know so we can highlight the work of these extraordinary Gibraltarian professionals around the world like Roy in Aberdeen, Meena in London, Gareth in Canada, Mark in Australia, Karen and Peter in Scotland and all of the rest of them.
Alongside our health, care and frontline professionals in Gibraltar, they all represent the very best of us.
Let me end by reminding you that second dose appointments for vaccinations will now be offered to people who have received their first dose.
In the vast majority of cases this will be at the same time and on the same day as the original appointment, but three weeks later.
As an example, if someone was vaccinated at 11:00am on Monday 11th January, their next appointment will be at 11:00am on Monday 1st February.
It is critically important that people keep their appointments for the second dose to avoid wasting precious vaccine.
It will not be possible to move appointments from one day to another, apart from in very exceptional circumstances, as there will not be any spare vaccine on other days as it has all been allocated.
Once the second doses have been given to our oldest and most vulnerable, the vaccination programme will continue to give second doses after 21 days, but also to give further first doses to the priority groups.
This includes continuing to vaccinate the last few people in their 60s, remaining key workers, and people who have been unable to be vaccinated so far as they were either self-isolating or within 28 days of a positive COVID test.
As we move into this new phase of partial unlocking, I implore all of you to follow the rules.
Observe the spirit as much as the letter of the new regulations to be published.
And please, please look after yourselves.
Assume every one you meet outside of your home has COVID in the way that you approach them.
Even your best friends.
Let us be extra cautious for the next three weeks as we give our most vulnerable and our frontliners that extra chance to build up the maximum immunity.
As ever when it comes to our small but great nation – UNITED we will succeed.
I will now take questions from journalists.
Press Conference Questions
GBC, Jonathan Scott [00:18:33] Good afternoon, Chief Minister Jonathan Scott for GBC. There will be a three week period gap between unlocking of non-essential businesses on Monday and schools restarting. Some parents who are meant to return to the office and work as from Monday. Are you concerned that there could be a push? Obviously, not by design, but you could see children pushed to grandparents for childcare for the next three weeks?
Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo [00:19:03] Well, I'm sure that there are not any parents who are that selfish that they will take their children to their grandparents if those grandparents are over the age of 70, because if they do so, they will be risking their lives. The over 70s will not have the maximum level of immunity that the Pfizer vaccine will provide for. And it is only the Pfizer vaccine that we have used until now in Gibraltar, until 21 days after the second dose is administered. So I would implore people to put things into perspective and to understand that the government cannot provide for everything and that this is a time for very, very difficult personal sacrifices and to work from home in so far as they can and to make alternative arrangements, if possible, for childcare. I know that this is extraordinarily difficult. This is what we would describe as very, very suboptimal. We would have wanted to be able to open the schools on the 1st of February, but we are not able to do so because we recognise that the schools will create an area of agglomeration for children, that those children will then potentially become vectors for the virus and they will take the virus back into the home and back into the vulnerable, back into the grandparents. So that's why we're holding the ring on children. But at the same time, although there may be some of the instances that you refer to, there will be many people who will be able to work in the reopening of non-essential retail who will not have those issues with children. So this is why we're doing the balance in the way that we are doing it. We recognise that there will be people who will fall off the balance, but we're trying to ensure that what we do is to protect the majority and to ensure that we deliver the best possible result for our community.
GBC, Jonathan Scott [00:20:37] You you've talked about the need to sort of be sensible about this for the next few weeks. Employers as well need to take, I suppose, an understanding perspective. We heard the minister for Education call for solidarity. I suppose that as the largest employer, the public sector that'll be in practise there. Right?
Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo [00:20:59] Well, I don't think anybody needs to question whether the government is going to practice what he preaches, particularly in relation to the way that we have dealt with COVID-19 in the context of our own employees, because I believe that the public sector as a whole from the ministerial level through to the management level and through to everyone who is employed in the public sector, we've demonstrated the best of what the public sector can do in respect of Gibraltar. We've worked together at every level to ensure that everybody in the public sector who needs protection, who needs consideration, has that consideration. And I've called for solidarity with the people of the world who are losing their relatives, not just in Gibraltar, but in all nations on the planet. The call for solidarity, of course, is also about internal solidarity and not just in respect of the loss of life, but in respect of the difficulties that we're all experiencing. And I think on that, you would probably find unanimity that the public sector leads in terms of protection of terms and conditions of employment cetera. And I would call on private sector employers to share the responsibility that they have shown until now, despite how difficult things may be getting at this stage for this extra final, hopefully final push that we have to make to ensure that we have inoculated as many as possible in our community. And we've given the four key categories, the maximum level of protection. So that we understand that, of course, because those four categories are the ones most at risk. Below those categories, people are at risk of potentially contracting COVID-19 and the difficulties that that creates for them. But the numbers of people in those cohorts requiring hospital care are not likely to put huge pressure on the GHA that the GHA would not be able to withstand the numbers of people in those cohorts that would potentially be at risk of their lives is statistically a lot smaller. And therefore, we need to ensure that we give this extra push to protect those four key categories where there is a danger of pressure on the GHA, where there is a danger of mortality being in excess of what we would expect to see. And for that reason to do that, avoiding having to lock down again by pushing that a little bit further at this stage. That is the thinking. That is the logic behind the way that we are approaching this.
The Chronicle, Brian Reyes [00:23:15] Chief Minister, good afternoon. If I may, I'm going to stick to the schools issue. When you explained last week that you were planning to open the schools on February the 1st, you said you were planning firmly to do that and that that decision would be subject to a major increase in the infection rate, which we haven't seen. So I'm just trying to understand what has changed between the time that you made that announcement and between the time that you took the decision to keep the schools closed, because surely the public health advice would have been the same a week before.
Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo [00:23:47] It was and the public health advice is not what has changed. What has changed is the availability of the certain availability of the second dose of the vaccine. And because of the certain availability of the second dose of the vaccine, we are in a situation where we can now assure those who have had the first dose in the four most at risk categories that they can have the second dose. Therefore, it becomes a question of saying to ourselves, well, if we can give that second dose, if we can see those four key categories in the front line as have the maximum level of protection, or near it, by the 22nd of February, the balance of risk becomes a different one, because there you really do have an opportunity of achieving something that perhaps, if I may say so, no other nation in the world is able to achieve, not for any reason, which makes us spectacular other than our size. Right. This is not because we have done things better than anyone else. This is not the game that anyone should fall into the trap of pretending that anyone should play. This is simply because of our size and because of the availability of vaccine and because of the one thing that I must say has been done tremendously well is the vaccination programme. And you've seen some clues in that. In what I've said today, twelve thousand eight hundred and sixty vaccinations given by close of business today, not one dose wasted. That means that we not just are not wasting doses, we don't have doses sitting in the freezer. We can get from freezer to jab in the arm in a shorter period than most other places. And that is why we are being given the vaccine, because we can put it to use otherwise it may be sitting on the shelves. In that context, we can do this in respect of those for most at risk cohorts. We can give them that almost a near certainty insofar as science is able to give of immunity by same dates 21st day after second dose, which is so close to 22nd of February. So the question is, given what we've been through in the past couple of weeks, the loss of life vaccine, you put yourself in my position. Would you do anything that created a risk of a further loss of life in those four cohorts? And I think every member of COVID Platinum felt exactly the same way that I did. We rebalance the risk. We looked at this in detail. This is not about whether we said one thing and we change our minds. This is about the advice, the balancing that we have to do and the risk that we are prepared to take. And I have never been prepared to take a risk on one Gibraltar and life, not least now, having seen this awful loss of life this January.
The Chronicle, Brian Reyes [00:26:25] Following on from from that answer, if I may, on the issue of vaccines, are you expecting another shipment tomorrow? Can you tell us a little bit more about how much is on that shipment and beyond the people in the four cohorts who have received their first dose of vaccine and will receive their second dose of vaccine, what is your expectation going forward about the reliability of supply, given the issues that we're seeing with supply in many other countries, but also the row between the UK and the EU, over supply of vaccines? I mean, is that going to affect what you've said?
Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo [00:27:03] I don't believe there's a row between the United Kingdom and the European Union, that there was an obvious row between the European Union and AstraZeneca. But this is not a row between governments. I think it's important that we characterise that in the right way. Look, if you'll permit me one moment of levity during the course of this afternoon, it's that we we expect the R.A.F. to once again deliver to us these doses of the Pfizer vaccine. I think it's 8100 odd, again, on a six dose per vial basis. This is important. We haven't failed to get six doses from each vial, which also demonstrates that we are following the instructions well and are doing what we need to do to maximise the precious vaccine. And tomorrow, the weather is once again built to be awful and will once again have to be looking at the time that the the aircraft will be able to get in. The R.A.F and the Ministry of Defence are doing an incredible job in supporting Gibraltar through this period. And that in the context of what the numbers that we're looking at, 8100 doses on a six per mile basis gives us the ability to do all of the four key cohorts and start to give the second dose to the front liners that need it in that period, continue once we've done the four key cohorts as we start to do the second dose of the frontliners, continue to do a programme of first doses as well. For all those then in the age groups, which is the league table through which we are going, once you've done all of the four key categories and the front liners and prepare for the next arrival of vaccine, which gets us into the balance of the twelve thousand eight hundred that need the second dose and start to finish our first dose programme and continue our second dose programme. That is, of course, subject, as you rightly say, to what I would categorise not as the row, but as the international supply and demand issues that there are. And there what Gibraltar needs to do is to stress that our ability to inoculate large numbers of our population as a percentage is not anything that we're doing to show off. It's only something that we are able to do because of our Achilles heel, our biggest handicap, which is our size, but also because of that, the fact that whilst, as I said before, vaccine might sit on the shelves elsewhere for reasons related to distance and other logistical problems that larger places have, here vaccine never sits on the shelf. It gets quickly jammed into someone's arm. If we continue demonstrating that, then we will be able to have the supply available as long as the supply is available. And as I've said today, the AstraZeneca drug over which the European Union and that company are arguing is not yet at the time that they came down to do this press conference, not yet authorised by the European Medicines Agency for use. It may have been whilst I'm on my feet. In fact, from the nodding that I see in the seats in front of me, it has which I'm very pleased to see. But the AstraZeneca jab is not the one that we are receiving here. There are other issues there, of course, because of the Pfizer drug is produced in Europe, whether the exploitation would be permitted. Look, I'm sure that that we will see that there is not a trade war in vaccine. Otherwise, you know, my belief in human nature will will fly out of the window and so will many others.
Panorama, Karim Schembri [00:30:36] Good afternoon, Chief Minister Karim Schembri from Panorama here in December. You are hopeful that we will return to normality in April. The vaccination programme seems to be going swiftly. You expect Gibraltar to be living restriction for you in April or will be pushed further?
Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo [00:30:51] So thank you and welcome to No6 Convent Place, I really I give up staring into a crystal ball. I mean, we all had wished that we had seen the back of COVID over the summer. It came back as we anticipated it might in some way in the autumn. But those who predicted a second wave were perhaps not as accurate as they might have expected. There was a second wave and then the third wave, and it was the third wave that really got us. So I, I will tell you that I hope that by April, by late spring, by the summer, we should be beyond this. I've learnt to say no more than hope because we've looked at different strains. Whether the current inoculation programme protects us against these different strains, it appears there is good news in respect of what is called the South African strain, not yet clear in respect of what is called the Brazilian strain. I'm sure that using that terminology feels as terrible to those from South Africa and Brazil as it feels when we are referred to as the the British strain or the UK strain. I apologise immediately for the use of that terminology, but it appears to be the shorthand that we all know and we just need to keep an eye on what's happening. If you ask me to crystal ball gaze, you know, I would tell you that I think this is going to become something relatively annual in the same way as the flu jab has become relatively annual. So we will have to be on our guard for repeat inoculation requirements. There will be constantly the need to ensure supplies of that. And I do think that we are not entirely out of the woods yet, but it looks like by the end of the spring, sorry, by the end of the winter, we should be looking at a slightly easier spring. But please don't come back in April and throw those words back at me if we've got it wrong because who knows is the answer. Thank you.
Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo [00:32:44] Thank you, so we'll have some questions from those at home now.
YGTV - Giordano Durante [00:32:50] Good afternoon, YGTV. Why did he leave and what happens in the long term to those who are under 16, given the Pfizer vaccine is not licenced for use with our age group, is there a risk that virus could carry on spreading freely in that cohort and occasionally infect someone who is unvaccinated and vulnerable?
Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo [00:33:08] So you express it in the right way, you the it's not that the vaccine is not effective in the under sixteen's it's that it has not been tested in the under sixteen's and therefore it's not licenced for that purpose. It is likely that there may be some under 16 year olds who will be vaccinated in Gibraltar, be inoculated in Gibraltar using the vaccine on an unlicensed basis. Now, you may have seen Professor Van Tam talk about this in the Downing Street briefings. In certain circumstances where parents and GP's agree, it may be possible to use the vaccine on unlicensed basis. The issue then is liability. This is something that we are talking to the United Kingdom about in order to resolve where liability would lie there. But that's a legal issue. It's not an issue relating to a science or immunology. It is not impossible to see the possibility of the vaccine being licenced later in the under sixteen's. The question of licencing is not so much about danger. It's about data, in other words, because it hasn't been tested in respect of the under sixteen's, there is no data to tell us that it is safe in the under sixteen's and that it is effective in the under sixteen's. That will come as as time passes and is the opportunity to carry out further testing.
YGTV- Giordano Durante [00:34:31] And I don't think you mentioned anything about public transport, what happened to the public transport us from Monday, are buses still for frontline workers only.
Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo [00:34:38] We'll be working on those issues with the Ministry for Transport over the weekend. And we expect to be able to make an announcement based on the public health advice and how we would manage the use of the buses because they would still create an area of accumulation. And it may not be possible to provide public transport across the board on Monday, maybe something that also has to wait another seven, 14 or 21 days.
YGTV - Giordano Durante [00:35:04] And can you finally explain to us the reasoning behind continuing with that curfew from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.
Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo [00:35:10] So also matters related to accumulations. I mean, I hate to say it, but what we need to restrict accumulations of people, whether it's in Main Street on a Saturday morning or whether it's in Camp Bay at three o'clock in the morning, you know, on a Friday afternoon or Saturday morning. So, you know, I mean, I'm sure that doesn't make us popular. I've been young and I've been that can be at three o'clock in the morning with one of the journalists here playing guitar. And it's the fun that we want people to have. We don't want to stand in the way of that. But creating those accumulations now is a problem. And so for that reason, we have to ensure that we keep away from those activities for the next 21 days at least. That's what we're trying to do. We're trying to get grandma and grandpa and everyone over the age of 70 and those who are in those four key categories, the maximum level of immunity before we allow ourselves the ability to be completely free because we might take it back to them inadvertently in some way. And we want to provide that protection. And look, of all the months in which we might do this, January, February are probably the months where it's coldest in Camp Bay at 3:00 in the morning.
Olive Press - John Culatto [00:36:24] Chief minister. Can you confirm that the civil service has cut all discretionary overtime from January 27? And if so, how will the GHA function during the pandemic with the current low staffing levels?
Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo [00:36:39] Thank you, John. The civil service is not the GHA and the GHA is not the civil service. And what is discretionary overtime is overtime, which is not required overtime, which might be wished for by a head of department who might wish to finish something in that particular time, not something which is essential. And the GHA and the overtime is done in the GHA, which is a different entity is, of course, essential.
Olive Press - John Culatto [00:37:05] OK, with school starting later than predicted, is there any effect on the online learning programme, like is there enough material available for the students continuing learning during this time?
Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo [00:37:19] Well, I mean, you need to understand that the material is made available by the teachers who are doing a fantastic job of making sure that the systems that are used at different levels, my children in particular use something called See Saw is updated on a daily basis. There's the stuff there to do on a daily basis, and it's the stuff which is related to what they would be doing in their classrooms during that period. So if we were to continue, perish the thought until summer, there would certainly be able to provide new stuff on a daily basis. Although, as you can imagine, having to do that is completely different to the environment in which teachers are used to operating and wish to operate and in which children are used to being and wish to be, which is the classroom environment, which in our view is the best environment for them to be in. I think it's important to understand the huge effort that teachers are making in order to do the online learning platforms. Those are much harder to provide for than than the physical platform of the classroom. And I think it's unfair for some to think that this is teachers trying to somehow have it easy and far from it. I think this is teachers actually having to reinvent the way that they do teaching on a daily basis, and they are to be applauded for the way that they've delivered until now.
GBC, Jonathan Scott [00:38:41] Chief minister is the director of public health, Dr. Sohail Bhatti, back at work now?
Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo [00:38:50] Yes he is.
GBC, Jonathan Scott [00:38:51] And during his time off on whose public health advice was the government acting?
Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo [00:38:58] So the government was acting on the basis of the advice of Dr. Krish Rawal. As you know, we also had Dr. Wright here at that time, and we have the benefit of the medical advice of all those who were in the GHA.
GBC, Jonathan Scott [00:39:14] And who is the professional lead on the vaccination programme.
Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo [00:39:18] You have to ask the minister for health. For me, it's the minister for health who then, of course, liaises with her department. There are a number of different professionals who are involved. For example, one of the key professionals is Rose Suissa, who is managing the Primary Care Centre and is involved in that area. There is another area for inoculation, which is in the St. Bernard's Hospital, which under the under the responsibility of Krish Rawal while as Medical Director and Sandie Gracia. But I wouldn't be able to tell you who is the key point in that .
GBC, Jonathan Scott [00:39:50] We've seen Gibraltar at the top of tables comparing how different countries have been impacted by coronavirus, by covid-19, we've seen Gibraltar at the top for testing and also for now, the roll out of the vaccination programme, second behind Israel, but also sadly at the top for a number of cases and deaths. Do those comparators weigh on you.
Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo [00:40:16] Well, I mean, as I've said before, I think it is irrelevant to do those comparators. I mean, a lot of these things are done on the basis of extrapolations, over 100,000 people. Right. So let me tell you what weighs on me. You look at us per 100,000 people, our deaths are probably 210. We haven't got 210 dead people. We've got 73 dead people, those additional 130 people do not exist, there's corpses are not there. So we don't need to preoccupy ourselves with nonsense like league tables. This is not the premiership. You know, this is reality. We have to worry about the 73 who have died on our watch in our country, not what we look like in the context of some league table for the good and for the bad. COVID-19 is not a race. COVID-19 is a problem, a public health crisis that we have to resolve in the context of our reality. And solving it in the context of our reality is what we must concentrate on, not look over our shoulders and worry about how our neighbour might be doing better than us or might be doing worse than us. Once we have done what we need to do, we need to look at how we can help others from Gibraltar and we shall certainly be doing that. But, you know, the league tables are unfortunately, in my view, a fool's errand either when we're at the top of one or at the bottom or another.
[00:41:41] Chief Minister, we've seen the rate of infection come down, thankfully, you've said that it's estimated now at below are nought point five, I think is the figure that you gave looking at the data over the past few weeks of lockdown. And what have the experts told you about where people were getting infected, given that we were all supposedly in lockdown? Were there any focal points that you can draw any lessons from?
Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo [00:42:07] So if you look at the numbers of infections that we could detect and for example, I think today - sorry, let me get this right - yesterday, the 24 that we reported were broken down with 16 of them being in close contacts. So in other words, we were able to trace of the 24, 16, which is quite a high percentage. And this demonstrates what has been going very well in Gibraltar in the context of tests and trace when you didn't have an explosion, because when you have an explosion, it's everywhere and you can't trace it. And so clearly, the virus at one stage was passing in the home because by pushing the virus back into the home by lockdown, you take it away from the general population, but you push it back into the home. And one person was coming into the home with COVID and everyone else was getting it as well. Potentially, some people even in the home with COVID didn't get it. I mean, we have to, we still have to work out how that happens. So we are starting to see that because we pushed COVID back into the home and that's where it was passing, it wasn't passing in other areas. It's certainly not passing in catering establishments because those are closed. It wasn't passing in non-essential shops. We weren't identifying it having passed in the supermarkets that were open where people could go. And we found some instances of it passing in places of work and in those places of work, we were ensuring that we were advising isolation for those who might have been in touch in order to try and suppress each instance. The number that I haven't shared with you but you will see in the in the data this circulated by the Government daily is the number of people in isolation. That's still at 800. But that, I think, shows you the suppression work is happening.
Chronicle, Brian Reyes [00:43:51] Following on from that, if I may, as well, and we've asked you about this in the past, and I'm just wondering whether you have any update. You identified in December one case of this UK strain, the extra infectious one. Has any more work been done to establish whether indeed it was that strain that was behind the surge? And can you share any any information on that?
Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo [00:44:15] The only information I can share with you on that is that that work, as I understand it, at my level, is just ongoing work. I haven't yet been presented with any data sets that tell us more about that. Doing the microbiological work behind identifying these genes is something that takes some time because you have to actually, in the pathology, you have to grow the gene in order to be able to identify it. The work that you're seeing now in the ill-named South African and Brazilian strains, which the UK's identifying is also some months behind, even after the identification of it. Remember that what the Prime Minister announced in December related to something that had been identified happening in September, but it was identified the day before he announced it on the 18th of December. So it takes time to grow the cultures and to have the pathology, et cetera. So I can't give you more at this stage, but we're very keen to carry out an autopsy of what's happened in the context of the move of the virus through our community.
Chronicle, Brian Reyes [00:45:15] And if I may, one last question on a completely different matter. You mentioned the issue of the border. You mentioned the tighter restrictions in La Linea and indeed the Campo. But it's also true that today the Spanish government issued a regulation which effectively tightens the criteria of who can cross that border, because in the past, when they announced the first form of that regulation in December, it basically allowed residents of Gibraltar of any nationality to cross in to Spain, whereas now it's residents of Gibraltar of any nationality who have a justified, essential reason to cross in. And they also spoke about, they claimed to have detected a lack of reciprocity on the Gibraltar side. Do you know what they are referring to? Have you had any contact with them? Can you explain what the situation is?
Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo [00:46:11] I don't accept your characterisation of the issue of reciprocity. What the regulation provides for is reciprocity, not in the absence, because of the absence of reciprocity.
Chronicle, Brian Reyes [00:46:24] The explanatory note of the regulations states that they have detected an absence of reciprocity.
Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo [00:46:28] No, they have detected an absence of reciprocity, not on the part of the Gibraltar authorities. I don't accept the interpretation of the regulation in that way. What I think the regulation is doing is providing for reciprocity. In other words, it's providing for the reciprocity that we've talked about in the context of Brexit, ironically, being brought in to the effect of what is provided for now at the frontier. So if Gibraltar somehow were to decide to stop others coming into Gibraltar on the different criteria, that would be the criteria that would be applied to us. The the changes that we are seeing are in keeping with the attitude that's been taken to the whole Campo de Gibraltar. This is not the singling out of Gibraltar. We have to be very clear about that. It's about ensuring that what is happening in relation to La Linea from outside of La Línea happens also from Gibraltar. So from San Roque to La Linea and from - in fact, I think the whole perimeter of La Linea is in San Roque - you would not be able to enter unless you met established criteria. That's the same criteria that's been established for entry from Gibraltar. That's the key issue. And that's why I'm saying to people, the part of my address today that dealt with the rules in Spain, that people need to familiarise themselves with the Spanish rules. There is no reason to go out of your home today in Gibraltar unless you're going to work, unless you're going for a medical appointment, unless you're going to do something essential like shop for groceries, etc. We are relaxing things a little as from Monday, but there is still no reason, even after Monday, although the law will permit it, to go out of your home in Gibraltar unless on our strong advice, you meet one of those criteria. Still less to go out of Gibraltar to do things that you might otherwise not be able to do in Gibraltar. That's why I'm imploring people, I'm left with nothing more than to ask for solidarity in my fellow Gibraltarians by imploring them to follow the letter of the rules in Gibraltar and indeed not to go out of Gibraltar unless they have to, for the same reasons that they should be leaving their homes in Gibraltar. This is not an issue of politics. This is an issue of public health. And we all need to be protecting each other and ensuring that we're acting in the way that we all protect each other. And the best way to highlight that is to look at the issue of vaccination. Vaccination will not be effective for the world until the whole world has been vaccinated. Now it's going to take a long time to do that. I doubt that we'll be able to do that this year, but that is the reality of what we're looking at. Unless seven billion people all have an inoculation which gives them the maximum possible protection, none of us will be safe. In the microcosm that is Gibraltar and La Linea and the Campo de Gibraltar we must also take the same attitude. Thank you.
GBC, Jonathan Scott [00:49:20] Chief Minister, if I may, a question which we've asked previously, but just maybe for an update. Any health care workers or any issue arising as a result of health and care workers or now teachers not wanting to accept the vaccine?
Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo [00:49:37] None. I think that statistically, these are not issues which have shown themselves to be concerning in any way. In fact, I think that if you look at what's happened with the vaccine. Before the vaccine arrived, there was a lot of chatter about whether people would take it or not take it. As the news has developed and that the vaccine has arrived, I think people are forming an orderly queue, having the vaccine as soon as it is offered to them. There have been some legitimate questions, for example, issues relating to women of childbearing age, women who are pregnant, women who might be breastfeeding. And they wanted to have more information about how the vaccine is licenced for them, what evidence there is in testing in relation to the vaccine and what data is available. That has manifest itself more in the teaching profession than it has in any of the other professions, because there are more women of childbearing age in that profession and public health Gibraltar has provided some FAQs dealing with those frequently asked questions which they've detected. And as a result of pushing out that FAQ leaflet to those who have previously raised those questions, they found that they've satisfied in many instances the concerns that those people had and those people have asked to be vaccinated now that they've had their concerns resolved. And therefore, we don't have a statistically concerning number of people who might not have wished to have the inoculation. In other words, people who have had it offered but rejected it.
GBC, Jonathan Scott [00:51:03] Your language suggests that there have been cases, even if significantly not, statistically not significant. Any policy decisions to make as a result, if I mean specifically or most definitely were they caring for vulnerable people? But I can also imagine, given the logic the government has used for postponing the opening of schools, the teachers are in a particular place to act as a vector for the transmission of the virus. Any policy decisions resulting?
Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo [00:51:35] No, the answer is no, because it's not statistically significant. If it was statistically significant, we might have to make policy decisions. But if you have numbers which are small enough that it's not statistically significant, you don't have to make policy decisions.
Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo [00:51:52] We thank you very much indeed, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us once again at number six Convent Place. I mustn't forget how I started this address. In this month of January. We've lost more Gibraltarians than we ever have in such a short period of time for one cause, to COVID-19. We have had a lively discussion afterwards. I've explained matters relating to the lifting of the lockdown, but I started reflecting on that, that I must end reflecting on that awful loss of life in asking you to mourn with us when the time comes so that we can all mourn collectively whatever creed we may be. And in the time as we now try to come out of this, that there is between now and normality, please, for the next seven days, in particular, for the next 21 days in particular, as our four key cohorts take their second dose and the maximum level of immunity, please follow the spirit of the new regulations, follow the letter of the new regulations as well, and act as if everyone you meet had COVID and try and stay at home as much as you can. Only in that way will we get the best out of this precious vaccine, we will find our way through this very difficult time. I'm left only to implore you to please cooperate with your government. Remember that a house divided, falls. Gibraltar has never been a house divided on key issues. We are a house united. Thank you very much to all of you and I'll once again report to you in seven days' time.