This morning, I chaired a meeting of the COVID Platinum Command Group.
Together with His Excellency the Governor, the Deputy Chief Minister, the Minister for Civil Contingencies and the Minister for Public Health, and all other attendees, we considered how best to address the continued rise of infections of COVID-19 in our Community.
Today, Mr Speaker, I can report that Gibraltar has already fulfilled:
140,000 tests for COVID-19.
66 new cases in our Community today.
99 individuals are now considered to have been recovered from the disease.
That leaves 967 active cases, importantly under 1000.
To date we have had 160 people admitted to hospital since the spring just with COVID-19.
At the moment there are 39 patients in the COVID wards at St Bernard’s Hospital.
I said WARDS was we now have more than one WARD with COVID patients.
JOHN WARD has in part now been adapted also.
There are 11 people in the COVID CCU.
That means that we presently have 50 inpatients at St Bernard’s Hospital with COVID-19.
Of those 11 in the Critical Care Unit, 9 are on ventilators.
This puts huge pressure on our GHA staff at the CCU, as those patients require manual handling as they are not conscious.
I am very sorry to have to report to the Community a total now of 30 deaths from COVID-19.
The last two have touched me deeply as one was a member of my extended family and another was one of my former teachers.
With 30 deaths, every family will now have been touched to some extent by a death from COVID-19.
And to think, Mr Speaker, there was a time when we had avoided any deaths from this deadly disease.
Mr Speaker, our frontline services continue to be impaired with the GHA and the RGP continuing to suffer a casualty rate in excess of 10% in each of people in isolation or positive with COVID-19.
At the same time, Mr Speaker, after a magnificent effort with the support of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in London and in the Convent in Gibraltar and the support also of the MOD in the United Kingdom and in Gibraltar, in particular the RAF, we received our first doses of the PFIZER vaccine last weekend.
There was, as Honourable Members will recall, huge expectation in Gibraltar, not least because of the weather, on the potential for the arrival and landing of that RAF A-400 aircraft.
Since then, Mr Speaker, I commend the GHA for a magnificent effort under the auspices of Health Minister, Minister Sacramento for a vaccine programme that has gone without a glitch until now.
Many have commented to me how well treated they have been in the process of making appointments and their treatment during the vaccination process.
To date, 4,188, correct as at last night, have received the first dose of the PFIZER vaccine.
1,215 frontline GHA staff.
28 GHA patients
437 ERS staff
152 ERS patients
2,339 over 70’s
17 patients at Ocean Views.
Most importantly, I am able to report to the House that NO DOSES HAVE BEEN WASTED AT ALL!
Mr Speaker, until the vaccine is in our bodies and has had time to take effect, our people remain at risk and our ability to deliver services remains at risk.
For that reason, Mr Speaker, we have agreed in COVID Platinum today that the correct way to continue to see a downturn in the numbers of infections recorded daily is to continue with the restrictions on mobility for a further seven days.
We are seeing a downturn, but the growth is still there.
We are no longer seeing 170 or 180 cases a day, as we were a week or two ago.
But we are still seeing high double figure growth.
The R number is now well below 1, likely in the region of 0.77.
The curve of infections is coming down, but it is still far, far too high for us to safely release the restrictions.
I must tell the Community today that the restrictions are likely to be renewed AGAIN in seven days’ time.
I do not take that for granted.
We will NOT renew the restrictions if we are able to loosen them of course.
But we will be unlikely to be able to do so.
For that reason, I also do not believe that it will be possible for us to commit to reopening schools by Monday 25th of January although that will of course continue to be our aim.
We will continue to work with our teachers in order to ensure that when our schools do return, they return in a way that is safe for our teachers and our pupils.
It is more likely that we will still see schools able to reopen safely on Monday 1st of February.
That now appears to be a more realistic potential reopening date.
On St Martin’s, Mr Speaker, we are working for an even earlier date of reopening if possible.
We are conscious of the difficulties being experienced by the parents of children with special needs in particular.
We will ensure our teachers are going be in the very first round of those to be vaccinated beyond the ‘at risk’ groups and the teachers at St Martin’s will be the first of the first.
Until then the relevant Ministers are working to provide additional facilities for children and persons with special needs at parks, and the RGP are aware of the specific provisions in our regulations for persons with learning difficulties, an innovation we did not have during the first lockdown but which Minister Sacramento specifically carved out this time.
That is also likely to be 1st February, more realistic date on which we might start to see the lifting of restrictions.
If we can lift restrictions next week, of course we will do so.
But it will be the number of infections that will determine that.
Also, Mr Speaker, it is important that I give the community a heads up that when we do start to lift restrictions, we will do so in a gradual and safe way only.
I believe we may see that as we lift lockdown, we may have to maintain a curfew, for example.
We may also have to maintain some restrictions in other respects.
I DO NOT DISCARD THE POTENTIAL NOW OF A TERRITORIAL RESTRICTION ON MOVEMENT OTHER THAN FOR WORK OR FOR MEDICAL EMERGENCIES.
Also, Mr Speaker, I will shortly be engaging with our catering industry as, at the moment, we do not think it will be safe to open our catering establishments at the same time as we release other aspects of the lockdown.
I will be engaging directly with the Gibraltar Catering Association again in coming days.
They have been extraordinarily responsible in the work they have done with us and I look forward to that continuing active and positive engagement with them.
Mr Speaker, we have already started working with our business sector in payments under what we are calling BEAT 5.0.
We will continue to do so.
But what is clear around the world, as I said in my New Year’s message, is that all nations are facing public finance problems, even the oil-producing states, as a result of the COVID pandemic.
For that reason, we must ensure that Gibraltar moves quickly to undo the issues of instability that arise for our public finances as a result of COVID and indeed, the additional whammy of BREXIT.
In order to assist me in addressing those issues as Minister for Public Finance, I have appointed Sir Joe Bossano as Minister with responsibility for Financial Stability, alongside his responsibilities for Economic Development and his other portfolio responsibilities.
That will enable us to work together directly with the Financial Secretary, Albert Mena, in addressing the issues which will arise as we cast our first post BREXIT, post COVID Budget for this Community.
This is something we are already working on and Sir Joe has asked me to advise the House this afternoon that he is holding a meeting with the Financial Secretary this afternoon in preparation for this exercise and for that reason has not attended Parliament.
I know that we will all take comfort in this Community from the extraordinary experience that the Government can count on in Sir Joe and the extraordinary ability that the Government can count on in Albert Mena as we prepare for these new estimates.
I must, Mr Speaker, before I conclude thank our magnificent frontline, public sector staff.
All of them.
In the GHA, the RGP, CUSTOMS, GDP, ERS everyone.
I cannot list them all as I will leave some out.
Also in the private sector, our supermarket staff, the delivery persons who bring food to our homes, and our pharmacy staff how are also so essential.
I will have left people out.
A deep thank you to everyone who has helped at all in this effort.
Today I saw a report of Francis Huart, a good friend, who is trying to be a friend to everyone he can by delivering what he can as necessary.
What an example he is.
His is one case of so many volunteers seeking to help as much as they can.
Mr Speaker, I must end thanking everyone in our community for complying with the COVID restrictions.
Incidences of failure to comply with the rules are low.
The vast majority are complying with the rules.
Those few that do not are letting themselves and each other down.
SO PLEASE – I URGE ALL MEMBERS OF THE COMMUNITY- HELP US TO LIFT THESE RESTRICTIONS AS SOON AS POSSIBLE BY CONTINUING TO COMPLY WITH THE RULES.
STAY AT HOME UNLESS IT IS ESSENTIAL TO GO OUT.
GO OUT ONLY FOR ESSENTIALS OR ESSENTIAL EXERCISE.
FOLLOW THE RULES AND TOGETHER WE WILL EMERGE MORE QUICKLY OUT OF THESE DIFFICULT TIMES.
Mr Speaker, I will be happy to clarify any aspects of this statement that Honourable Members might wish me to address.
Mr Speaker, I commend this statement to the House.