CM’s SPEECH - PRESS CONFERENCE 12th MAY
Good afternoon and welcome to this afternoon’s press conference from No 6 Convent Place.
I am hosting this afternoon’s Press Conference with the Director of Public Health, Dr Bhatti.
Let me start by wishing all our nurses a very happy International Nurses Day.
It is particularly apposite that we are able to start this press conference sending you all our best wishes without the issues that are facing many other nations who are mourning the loss of nurses and other frontline medical professionals.
Thank you all for the work you have done to prepare our Health Authority for the challenges of dealing with COVID-19.
Today, we have published our UNLOCK THE ROCK strategy document.
It is now available on the Government website and social media The strategy we have deployed is bespoke for Gibraltar.
It is designed specifically for Gibraltar.
We are able to take the positions we are taking thanks to the current low rate of infection in Gibraltar.
In that respect, I can tell you that, today, the number of people who are diagnosed as being actively infected with COVID-19 in Gibraltar is just 4.
That figure means that for the past six days now we have been in single figures in the active stage of the disease.
And that is in the context of greatly increased sampling.
We have already carried out 4,352 tests for COVID-19.
Of which, we have received 3,942 results.
We have had a total of 148 confirmed cases.
144 of these are now already recovered.
There is no-one today with confirmed or even suspected COVID-19 in John Ward, in the Nightingale Ward or in the COVID ICU.
Frankly, these are magnificent statistics to date.
But We have to be wary of infections increasing and second waves etc.
But what a great day to celebrate International Nurses Day!
Yesterday, I gave the community an overview of the dates provided for in our strategy.
Each of the phases I referred you to is divided by a ‘wait and see’ period of between two to three weeks.
The phases are designed to permit a return to work and a return to social life in a safe and secure way.
A gradual way that allows Public Health Gibraltar and the GHA to observe what the effects of the measures that we are taking are and what return of infections we might see during those periods.
This is a carefully calibrated step by step approach, that will allow us to finesse how we return each sector to normality.
I am particularly pleased that we believe that we will be able to take a posture as from Thursday of next week which is ADVISORY rather than COMPULSORY.
What will happen is that we will this week extend the regulations that affect our over 70 year olds from Friday the 15th May to the following Thursday the 21st May.
That will make the regulations affecting all ages co-terminus one with the other.
And the following week, we will take a different posture which will mean that you will not be subject to any laws about how you leave your home.
But we will still strongly advise you to stay home.
Because our advice is not changing, even though our legal posture can change.
We do not believe that it would be proportional to continue these restrictions against freedom of movement given the low numbers of infections reported today.
And in those circumstances what we will do, in the first week in PHASE 2, is to repeal those regulations which affect your freedom of movement.
But we will maintain the regulations which affect your freedom of association.
Because underlying these rules, will be a regulation restricting gatherings to less than 12.
This is important.
Because we are not yet confident that we can allow large public gatherings.
And that has meaningful consequences for things as important to some as religious worship, which will not return until PHASE 3 at the earliest.
I will let the strategy document speak for itself as I already took you through its sections yesterday.
But as we sit here today, I think it is important to reflect on where we are and why we are where we are.
At the time that we started to impose restrictions, in mid-March, we had seen what had happened in China, in Wuhan, and what was happening in Italy.
In China, 4,000 people died.
In Italy, the death toll was increasing.
It has now reached just shy of 31,000 people in Italy.
In Spain the numbers then were still quite low.
In the UK, the issue was just really in the background.
But we locked down anyway. We thought it was the right thing to do based on the Public Health advice.
Now the numbers of dead in Spain represent just shy of 27,000 people – that’s the equivalent of the whole adult population of Gibraltar gone in just five weeks.
In the UK the number of dead has now reached 32,000 – that’s the equivalent of the whole population of Gibraltar gone in just four weeks.
That is the killer that we faced and that we are facing.
So I want to express my solidarity again with the People of Spain and the People of the United Kingdom.
And indeed with our other neighbour Morocco, who have lost almost 200 people to date.
Each one of those is a life.
Not just a statistic.
Not just a number.
A partner or a relative.
A father, a son, a mother or a daughter.
And we must not lose sight of that horror because we are closer to summer, because it’s getting warmer.
Or because we are starting to unlock.
That is the reason why we locked down and turned our lives upside down and inside out.
That is why we have restrictions on travel.
And that is why this document is not about total freedom as from tomorrow
That is not what it provides for.
And although we are taking steps to liberalise our position slowly and gradually, we are not changing our advice for that reason.The virus is still out there..
So stay at home.
That is the safest course.
Remember that none of the people who have died of the virus went out to catch the virus or thinking that they would catch the virus whilst they were outside.
So please read our document in great detail.
Understand what we are doing, why we are permitting some things and some others are not being permitted.
And understand from when we are permitting some things and not others.
It is also particularly important to note the pauses that we have built into between stages.
These are designed to enable us to see if there is new growth of cases which we might consider to be growing at an unmanageable rate.
We are not pausing for any reason other than to prudently observe that our actions are not allowing the virus back.
And as we move from compulsory to advisory, it will be important to reflect on the work that we have asked our law enforcement agencies to do and how well they have done it.
So sincere thanks to the RGP, to the GDP and to the men and women of HM CUSTOMS for their work in the past six weeks.
I ask you all to please continue to cooperate with law enforcement.
The regulations restricting free movement continue in effect for now until a week on Thursday.
And thereafter, as I’ve said before, but this is important, GATHERINGS will still be restricted to twelve people or less for now.
As I said yesterday, the document we’ve prepared has been created and populated by our public health professionals and by each of the Ministries led by my Cabinet team.
I am grateful to all of them.
Additionally, we have also benefitted from the input of the Leader of the Opposition and his team.
I trust that their contributions have assisted in bringing greater clarity to the document in parts.
You will also see that our document also contains our proposals to cut pollution and encourage a more active life style.
On those proposals in respect of Line Wall Road, Chatham Counterguard and Europort Avenue, the Government and GSD Opposition disagree on the methodology, implementation and consultation as has been reflected in our respective press releases on the subject.
We have not been able to agree on this aspect of the document, which I regret, but make no apology for.
I think this is the right time to be bold and to pursue these policies designed to deliver healthier lifestyles and less pollution.
The Minister for Transport, Vijay Daryanani has nonetheless already fixed appointments to meet with Together Gibraltar and the GSD on this subject and with his technical teams in order to consult on the transport aspects of this document.
And I have today sent an advance copy of our Unlock the Rock document to Ms Hassan Nahon also.
I should also before moving on now say how grateful I am to Stephen Perera and to Selwyn Figueras for their work on the presentation and content of this document respectively.
Moving on now.
This afternoon I have written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson setting out the Government’s reasoning on why we should not be subject to the same quarantine provisions as may apply to other countries and will not apply to France and Ireland in respect of arrivals by air into the United Kingdom.
I know that the matter of Gibraltar’s exemption is actively being pursued in London by the All Party Group in Parliament.
Sir Bob Neill has written to the Prime Minister also today.
Colleagues in the Foreign Office are considering all arguments which may be relevant in support of Gibraltar’s position.
Also today, the Department of Education has written to university students, given the extraordinary closure of universities, on their third maintenance instalment of their scholarships awarded in early March 2020.
The maintenance grant is specifically provided to assist students in respect of their expenses whilst studying abroad.
The Department of Education is aware that most students returned to Gibraltar and that universities have made arrangements so that students can complete course assignments and the remainder of the academic year from home.
Many universities have announced that they will be waiving accommodation fees for the last term.
For those students in private accommodation, decisions as to whether rent is payable will be taken by landlords and liability to pay rent may depend on contractual commitments.
The result of these decisions is that some students will have no maintenance expenses at all during the current term whilst others will continue to have full outgoings, in particular rent.
The Government has therefore decided that, in order to ensure budgetary fairness amongst Scholarship students and to preserve financial equity, we must assess each student individually with a view to ascertaining financial commitments outside of Gibraltar during this term.
Any sum from the maintenance grant not required to meet those financial commitments will be required to be returned.
Each of the amounts recovered will be donated in the student's name to the GHA COVID-19 fund.
The Scholarship Section will be embarking on an exercise to ascertain the financial commitments abroad for this term and whether the student is entitled to the full or part of the amount awarded for the third maintenance instalment.
Each student will be dealt with on a case by case basis. This is not a case of one size fits all.
We do not want to create hardship for anyone.
Indeed, many students and parents have called in before this notice has gone out volunteering to return the money that has been given to them in the third maintenance grant.
The Department is seeking information from students at this stage only.
The deadline for information to be provided was given as 1st June but that will be extended to the 1st July as some students are undergoing exams and we do not wish to increase stress or pressure in any way for students.
Students will be emailed today informing them that each case will be evaluated on a one by one basis.
For example students in halls who have had their accommodation fees waived (which we understand is most of them) will be asked to return their maintenance grants, or those parts, which they will have not used.
Alternatively, they will be free to keep them in lieu of their September grant for the next academic year.
They will also be told of the extension of time.
You should note that there are around 1,000 students and that they have each received about £2,000 as the third maintenance installment.
The total paid out is therefore just over £2m.
The Department of Education also want to clarify that this is not intended at all for students who have stayed in their University accommodation in the United Kingdom.
Those students only need to confirm that they have been in the United Kingdom and they have not returned to Gibraltar for the duration of the third term..
Finally today, as you will see from the Unlock the Rock document before you, the Bathing Season this year will not start until mid-June, if everything goes well.
We are making arrangements for beaches to be available and ready for that date but not before.
We will also be making accessibility arrangements for persons with disabilities , given different potential arrangements this year.
We are very conscious of the needs of those with disabilities as well as the needs of the parents or carers of those with disabilities and we will be making particular arrangements this year.
But it is important please to note, ahead of mid–June, that there will not be lifeguards before that date at the beaches.
There will also not be the usual beach buoys and so pleasure boats and jet skis may be coming in closer to shore.
If you are bathing, please be aware of this.
Now I will allow the Director of Public Health, Dr Sohail Bhatti, to give you his own introduction and views in respect of our Unlock the Rock document before we take your questions.