A minute’s silence & COVID 19 Measures
Mr Speaker in the time since this House last met our community has lost a total of 80 Gibraltarians to COVID 19.
I am sorry to have to advise the community that we have had an additional death overnight.
The total number of persons who have passed away at the hands of this disease in our community is remarkable.
71 from COVID and 9 with COVID.
Mr Speaker before I say more and before I deal with the measures that are in place to restrict mobility and personal freedoms, I invite the House to take a moment again to reflect on that loss of life and to mark all of these Gibraltarian lives lost, and in solidarity with all nations of the world where COVID has taken so many prematurely, with a minute’s silence.
[THE CHIEF MINISTER INVITED THE HOUSE TO RISE FOR A MINUTES SILENCE].
[A MINUTES SILENCE]
Mr Speaker, more happily, overnight, the reported numbers of new infections from COVID 19 are down to 7, 5 of whom are residents.
That is based, Mr Speaker, on 1,177 tests carried out yesterday.
33 persons have recovered in the past 24 hours.
The total number of active cases in Gibraltar is now 177.
There are presently 416 persons now in self isolation in Gibraltar.
That is the first time we have been below 200 cases since the 20th of December last year.
We peaked at 1,317 cases at the end of the first week of January.
In the last twenty for hours there have been two admissions to Victoria Ward.
The overall picture in St Bernard’s now presents with a total of 13 patients on Victoria Ward, of whom 9 are stable or improving.
There are 9 COVID patients in our Critical Care Unit and 7 of these are unfortunately ventilated.
As the House knows from my statement last week, we have been able to close John Ward to COVID patients and the Health Authority has reduced its alert level from BLACK to RED.
So our measures have worked.
But we need them to keep on working.
For that reason, Mr Speaker, I have consulted with the COVID Platinum Command this morning and shared their advice with the Cabinet.
We have agreed that our posture on restrictions will be maintained without change for a further week and I have duly informed the Leader of the Opposition of this.
We continue, nonetheless to review all aspects of these restrictions at all times.
We are conscious that restrictions on our mobility and impositions on conduct necessary to stem the rise of infections are an otherwise intolerable curtailment of our Constitutional civil liberties.
We will maintain them as long as we have to.
But we will not maintain them for a moment longer than is prudently necessary.
In the circumstances, Mr Speaker, I do realise that even the less stringent restrictions that we have in place now can cause difficulties if not hardship to some.
The Government would seek to do things in a different way if only we could.
This virus has left us with little option and few choices.
There is progress though.
I have been provided today with news from Israel on a potential ‘fast treatment’ for COVID.
Signs coming from Israel of very fast and effective treatment” for COVID rather than “cure” as such will nonetheless be welcome.
The Honourable Ms Hassan Nahon has assisted in verifying the news source is a reliable one.
Through Ms Fleur Hassan Nahoum in Israel we have started the process of putting our health professionals in touch with each other to see if there is any mileage there.
Additionally, our vaccination programme continues at pace.
As at the close of business yesterday, 17,189 doses have been administered.
Of those, 13,246 are first doses.
And 3,943 are already second doses.
The roll out has been magnificent.
A real credit to the GHA as a whole and to its management team in particular.
Our frontline professionals in the wards, the CCU, ERS, the Care Agency and at every level of them have been incredible.
From store assistants to sisters.
From cleaners to clinicians.
All have been superb.
The leadership of Samantha Sacramento and the advice of Prof Ian Cumming. Mr Speaker, this has really been something of which the GHA can be proud and of which the whole community can be proud.
I have previously thanked the FCDO for their assistance in this matter, and I do so again, here, putting on the record of Hansard our sincere gratitude as a people for the approach taken by Ministers Raab and Morton at the FCDO as well as Minister Hancock in the Department of Health and Social Care in the United Kingdom.
The Foreign Office team in Gibraltar have been superb too.
Nick Pyle and the Governor, Sir David, really have been working closely with us on these issues.
Additionally, the logistical work necessary to get the vaccine here has been extraordinary.
I record the sincere gratitude of the people of Gibraltar also to the Ministry of Defence, and Secretary of State Ben Wallace, for the sterling work done by the RAF and RAF Gibraltar as well as the Royal Gibraltar Regiment, in the delivery of the vaccines to Gibraltar and to St Bernard’s Hospital.
Mr Speaker, last week, when the death toll in the United Kingdom from COVID exceeded 100,000, I wrote to the Prime Minister to express our condolences and solidarity with the people of the UK.
I also used my letter to express our gratitude, as I have set out today, to the Prime Minister for the support we have seen on the vaccination roll out and the sovereign guarantee which assisted us with the financial aspect of the COVID-19 crisis.
Mr Speaker, on the vaccines, I should say that we are issuing a plastic card upon the second dose being administered, which is evidence of inoculation with the two doses.
If there are UK wide, EU wide or Worldwide proposals to evidence of COVID inoculations, we will upgrade our systems here to ensure compliance with any accepted format.
We now have a confirmed next delivery of vaccines coming in on Monday.
We will continue therefore with the administration of the second doses and we will start to see the roll out to the different age groups that have not yet received the opportunity for vaccination.
We will soon start the see those in their mid to late fifties called for appointments as we continue the work of ensuring a ‘whole population’ vaccination regime on the same basis as the United Kingdom.
And as lock down recedes and we are left with a Curfew from 10pm to 6am, we must also thank our law enforcement agents in the Royal Gibraltar Police for their great work on enforcement, together with the other agencies that have assisted them.
That includes the men and women of our Customs Department and the Gibraltar Defence Police as well as the agents of the Borders and Coastguard Agency who have policed reasons for entry through our borders to also ensure compliance with our regulations by anyone who was coming into Gibraltar.
Mr Speaker the prudent course is for us not to agree yet to permit Saturday opening of retail shops.
We are now also clear that catering establishments should not be permitted to open until the 1st of March other than for take aways.
Those catering establishments will continue on 100% BEAT.
They will also continue to enjoy the other benefits which were provided for other sectors which were closed in January.
There are some sectors which are not closed but which are, nonetheless, experiencing difficulties which the Government understands.
We are therefore continuing our work in assessing which other sectors or groups need additional help in some way and if that help can be fairly provided.
I know that our sportsmen and sportswomen have been seriously affected by the lockdown.
Mr Speaker, the Government is conscious that the practice of sport brings physical and mental health benefits to people of all ages.
The return or organized sporting activity, as the House knows, is linked to the evolution of the pandemic.
New infections are down, the total number of cases are down and the number of hospitalizations are down.
I therefore want to reassure our sportspeople that the signs are good and that we will be looking to allow a return to training for sports with pressing international commitments of course before all others.
Mr Speaker, as our schools continue to be closed, I want to just record the gratitude of the Government in this House also to our teachers for their continued dedication to online learning.
I know this is a whole new discipline and I have already set out my views on this in answer to a question last week in the press conference I offered from Convent Place.
But I do want to record here my recognition of the way they have structured their delivery of education in these difficult months.
From my own children I can say that they have taken a lot from it, although perhaps in a way that is, naturally, different to what they take from education in the classroom setting.
For teachers, this has required commitment and versatility.
They are rightly to be thanked for the way they have delivered.
Additionally, of course, Mr Speaker, there is another side to this coin.
And that is the additional work being carried out by parents, guardians, nannies and other child carers as a result.
I want them all to know that the Government is aware that they are also providing their time and diligence to work through home teaching.
Whether it is in the provision of discipline or explanations.
Or whether it is in the management of the electronic devices etc.
I know this has been particularly difficult for parents who have had to combine children at home with continuing in the world of work or even with working from home. I don’t know which of those two might have been more difficult.
I have often thought of how hard some of the worst permutations of this posture will have been for single parents.
For them, as ever, these difficulties will have been amplified as everything obviously is.
I empathise and the Government empathises considerably.
The schools should all open now on the 22nd February.
The Minister and Department of Education continue working towards that date.
We will continue working with the teachers’ union to deliver on that date now without fail, unless there is an unexpected development.
We will also ensure, of course, that our buildings are ready for those dates.
Campo de Gibraltar
Mr Speaker, as we relax our social lock down, it should also be known in Gibraltar generally that the situation in the area around us is very concerning.
Yesterday there were over 1200 new cases of Covid-19 in the Campo de Gibraltar, with over 900 in Algeciras alone.
I remind residents of Gibraltar to travel to Spain only for the specific purposes allowed by Spanish law.
I remind people that travelling beyond la Linea is strictly controlled and that catering is also closed in La Linea.
It is important that any person travelling into Spain should familiarize themselves with the law in Spain surrounding the pandemic.
There are different rules from municipality to municipality depending on the level of lock down applied in each.
Gibraltarian Healthcare Workers Abroad
Mr Speaker, in my public statement last week on GBC I referred to a number of Gibraltarian healthcare professionals who are away from Gibraltar and who are using their skills to help other nations surmount the COVID challenge.
Just like our brave GHA workers, these ex-pat Gibraltarians are putting themselves at risk in the wider world.
They may even be putting themselves at greater risk than they would be in Gibraltar.
Mr Speaker, since I mentioned four individuals last week and called for the names of others, I have had a great response from proud relatives in the community telling me of the exploits of our Gibraltarian bretheren around the world.
Professor Ferro in Birmingham.
Dr Sheriff in Liverpool.
Intensive Care nurse Wright in Middlesbrough.
Mr Payas in Norwich Park.
Mr Torrilla in Kent.
Mr Lima in Oxford.
Ms Rodriguez in London.
And Ms Peliza in Norfolk.
And not least of all these Mr Power, who is a senior Vice President at Pfizer in Houston in the United States who has been working on issues related to the vaccines and combinations medicines that can go with it.
Remarkable that there are Gibraltarians all over the world.
Doing our little bit.
Our little grain of sand in care even beyond our shores.
We are no prouder of them than we are of those who work in our GHA.
But we are no less proud of them either.
Motion, Memorial, Ceremony
Mr Speaker, I have already indicated that we will propose a Motion to this House to stand as a fitting reminder of these times.
I hope to be able to count with the support of the Leader of the Opposition and of the Honourable Lady for that motion.
I will discuss and I hope agree the terms of it with them before it is brought.
I believe that motion should set out the parameters of the memorial this community should erect to those lost to this disease and to those who have worked so hard in dealing with the effects of this disease in this community.
I also hope we will be able to agree here the terms of the service of remembrance we will organise.
This must be inclusive and for all of us.
For all creeds and none and for all cultures.
I have some ideas which I will hope to discuss with Cabinet colleagues and then with members opposite also.
Business of the House
Additionally, Mr Speaker, I also look forward to coming back to the pace of monthly meetings which we have brought to the workings of this House and the ability of members to have questions answered also on a monthly basis which we all look forward to doing.
I have previously apologised to the House for our inability to maintain that rhythm these months, whilst we have nonetheless scrupulously ensured, with the support of all honourable members, that we have complied with all Constitutional requirements – whether in relation to meetings or the Public Finances.
Mr Speaker, January has been a terrible month.
The numbers of deaths recorded from Brexit to date leaves a harrowing number.
We are not yet out of the woods. But with the support of all our community for the measures we have imposed.
With the work of our healthcare, ERS and law enforcement professionals.
With the work of our vaccination teams.
With the support of the UK especially FCDO and MOD.
We are slowly turning the corner.
COVID seems to be here to stay.
We may need vaccinations every year.
Either boosters or new vaccines.
Either with the flu jab or separately.
But I think we can now start to see at least the beginning of an end to this terrible time.
A way out of this time of death and despair.
A way through to the way of life we love in this modest but magnificent little part of the world we call home.