COVID-19 Lockdown Press Conference: Chief Minister’s Script
My dear fellow Gibraltarians.
Thank you all for joining to watch this important live press conference from No6 Convent Place.
I am sorry to have to interrupt your Christmas and New Year holidays once again, not even 48 hours after my last press conference from No6.
And let me start by hoping that we all have a healthy, happy and prosperous 2021.
The reality, however, is that the numbers of new infections with COVID-19 in our community are remarkably high and concerning.
We are seeing rates of growth in new infections which are quite exponential and which are having a serious effect on the numbers of people hospitalised and the numbers of frontline workers in self-isolation.
The measures we took before Christmas and just after Christmas also, will not have percolated into these numbers yet.
We believe that those measures will have a positive effect on the rates of new infections.
But we can also see that the rate of community infection and community transmission is so high that we will not be able to turn down the rate of infection without more drastic measures.
With Christmas behind us, a curfew in place and all non-essential retail closed already, we need to further upscale the level of restrictions which are in place in order to have the best chance to control the virus as soon as possible.
We must also factor in when we want to take these measures.
No doubt, this is the slowest time of the year for most businesses.
It is a time when we are mostly spending time at home.
That in itself gives us no right to interfere with your constitutional rights of freedom of movement.
Your civil rights are not just important to us – they are SACRED.
But we do have public health reasons to act.
And those are now becoming obvious.
The rate of infection will today show 92 more active cases.
Yesterday we added 172 active cases.
Today’s numbers include 16 new positives in Mount Alvernia.
The total number of people with the infection today is 973 active cases. That is just shy of a thousand active cases.
The total number of confirmed cases since we started testing is up to 2,304 cases.
Exactly one month ago, on the 2nd of December, we were reporting 5 new cases of the infection.
Today we had 92 and yesterday 172.
On 2nd of December we had 1,035 total cases of COVID in our Community since we started testing.
We have more than doubled that rate in one month, up by almost 1,300 cases.
More than double.
The rate of growth has now got to be arrested.
The R rate today is calculated at 1.51.
The virus is therefore propagating more quickly than we can control it.
The numbers of people admitted to the Critical Care Unit at St. Bernard’s Hospital is up to 5 today.
We therefore had to open our second Critical Care Unit.
Day surgeries will therefore have to be cancelled.
This second CCU will have to be staffed, although there is huge pressure on GHA staff as a result of positive infections amongst them and a lot of people also in self-isolation.
Additionally, the number of persons in the COVID ward is up to 20.
The pressure is building on the GHA.
And that is also happening in a lot of other frontline agencies.
We cannot allow this pressure to build to breaking point.
It has not helped, of course, that whilst we have taken measures to have an effect here, we have seen some residents of Gibraltar, decide to go to Spain.
Those who have gone to their second homes, I fully understand.
But those who are going to Spain to do there what they cannot do here because of restrictions designed to avoid the spread of the infection and then are coming back into Gibraltar, are not assisting us.
We are therefore left with very little choice now, if we are to turn the tide and curb the rise of new infections.
We are left with very little choice if we are going to be able to continue to offer frontline services.
We are left with very little choice if we do not want to see an even sharper rise in self-isolations, hospitalisations and deaths.
As a result, we will impose a legal lockdown as a circuit breaker.
The lockdown will initially be for a period of 14 days.
I have nonetheless asked the Cabinet to agree that the lockdown should nonetheless be reviewed every 7 days.
I do not believe that we should maintain a lockdown which deprives you of important civil liberties for one moment longer than is necessary.
I have sought the advice of the Attorney General who confirms that the public health exception provided for in the chapter on fundamental rights in the 2006 Constitution is engaged.
He has also confirmed that the measures proposed are proportional in light of the potential consequences to our ability to continue to provide frontline services and to protect public health and human life.
A full civil contingency is now in play.
I am declaring a Major Incident Posture for the whole of Gibraltar.
I have considered the matter with the Leader of the Opposition, who agrees that these measures are necessary.
The additional measure we are taking is to impose a 24-hour curfew in effect.
For the next 14 days, you will not be permitted to leave your homes after 10pm tonight UNLESS it is for the reasons you became familiar with in the spring of 2020.
That is to say, you will only be able to leave your home to work, to exercise, to shop for the essentials in Gibraltar in the shops that remain open and to take out children.
Of course you will be able to leave home for medical reasons also, whether emergencies or appointments in Gibraltar or outside of Gibraltar.
There will be special arrangements for children and persons with special needs.
There will be special arrangements for families where children live with one parent and another has residence or visitation rights.
There will be permission to take essentials to elderly or otherwise vulnerable relatives.
There will be special arrangements for exercising dogs and the need to visit vets for example.
There will be permission to do essentials, but not frivolities.
BUT LET’S BE CLEAR: THIS IS A STAY AT HOME ORDER.
It is not something we are doing lightly.
As in every instance, we are taking these measures with a very, very heavy heart.
This runs contrary to our civil libertarian instincts as a Government.
But we have no choice.
And I believe each of you has no choice, if you want to support your nation, other than to abide strictly by these new regulations.
And remember that elsewhere these stay at home orders have not provided for the right to exercise as they do in Gibraltar.
Our strict lockdown is lighter than in most other nations.
So please do not try to find a way THROUGH the rules, try to ensure your strict compliance WITH these rules.
Work from home if you can.
Act as if you had been required to self-isolate and come out only if it is essential that you should.
These are difficult things to require of you, but require them we must.
Of course, these measures are cumulative.
They are in addition to existing measures.
BUT we are not closing work places.
Please continue to work in a manner that is safe.
The COVID-19 officer in your workplace can seek advice from Public Health Gibraltar in order to ensure a safe system of work.
I have already been in contact with Christian Hernandez, the President of the Chamber of Commerce in order to discuss how we will have to assist some businesses through this.
I will convene a virtual meeting of CELAC early next week to start calibrating assistance for affected businesses.
We will be there for businesses.
For our entrepreneurs.
For our wealth creators.
Just as we were in 2020, we will be in 2021.
The behaviour of the virus with such massive infectivity suggests that we are seeing the new, more infectious variant at play here. But we cannot confirm that genetically.
The social behaviour we have seen in the last three weeks will have assisted that new strain or even the original strain to propagate as it has.
So we must act and we must act now.
I felt it was important that you should have as much notice as possible of these measures, and for that reason I alerted you to the lockdown in social media posts yesterday.
I also felt you needed to hear directly from me when we are dealing with an issue as fundamental as the restrictions on your liberty.
The arrival of the vaccine is confirmed for the 9th January.
We are working with Public Health England and the Department of Health in the United Kingdom to agree that we can go with a one-dose strategy.
That means that instead of being able to vaccinate only about 2,500 people in our first tranche, we will be able to vaccinate about 5,000 people.
In the context of our population, this is a huge potential step forward.
Our size often puts our figures out of kilter.
We are testing more than anywhere else in the world almost on a per capita basis.
That means our figures are higher per capita for detected infections than anywhere else in the world.
But if weighted against testing per capita, our figures can be seen in a different light.
Now, also, our vaccination rates will be higher.
With a one-dose strategy we will be able to cover all or almost all of our vulnerable and elderly with the first 5,000 doses to arrive in Gibraltar on 9th January.
One sixth of our population can be covered in very quick time.
I have asked Public Health Gibraltar and the GHA to provide me with a vaccination strategy immediately to reflect the new potential one dose approach.
Professor Whitty, the United Kingdom’s Chief Medical Advisor has already alluded to this new approach.
We will be ready to deploy in this way if we can agree that we should.
BUT FOR TODAY, we must concentrate not on HOPE but on EFFORT.
We must face this virus off together.
Like we did in the spring.
Like we did with all challenges that we face.
Like we have done for generations.
Christmas is over.
A new year is here.
Our first and foremost resolution for 2021 must be to see the back of this damned virus and get back to freedom as soon as possible.
Your Government however, cannot do it alone.
The GHA cannot deliver this alone.
Your support is essential.
And so, alongside the law requiring you to stay at home, I call on each and every one of you to resolve to act in the spirit of this order and to support us in this final push to get beyond this virus.
That is how we will finally turn the page.
I am now open to questions from journalists here and joining us remotely.