CHIEF MINISTER’S STATEMENT AT JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE WITH THE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
Good afternoon. Ladies and Gentlemen, and welcome to this afternoon’s unprecedented press conference at No6 Convent Place.
It's my pleasure to welcome the Honourable Keith Azopardi QC to No6 today for what is a unique press conference.
Today your Chief Minister and your Leader of the Opposition appear together probably for the first time since the nineteen sixties.
The issues we are dealing with today relate to matters of life and death.
It is therefore right and proper that we should be standing shoulder to shoulder together on these issues.
Today, I am are here to report to you on the discussions in the meeting of Cabinet held this morning.
This meeting was attended by the Leader of the Opposition.
At the end of our statements, we will take questions.
Both of us will be able to comment on the questions posed as may be appropriate.
In that respect, I want to start by welcoming to No6 Convent Place, the members of the press who have attended this press conference in person.
We have missed you here for the past couple of weeks.
Welcome to this quite unique event this afternoon.
Before I go onto the matters that I must address you on, I want to share with you the updated statistics on the spread of the Coronavirus COVID-19 across our community.
To date the number of tests carried out have been 1,928
36 Results Pending.
Of the 1,892 Results Received, the number of Confirmed Cases is a total of 132.
Of those, the number of recovered cases is approximately 90% or 120,
The number of active cases as at today remains 12.
Those numbers are a measure of the success we have achieved in the Government’s policy of lockdown.
For that I want to thank everyone in Gibraltar for observing the regulations that we have imposed during the period of social lockdown to date.
I must thank the over 70s in particular.
You are the demographic most at risk.
And you are the persons most severely affected by the lockdown regulations we have imposed.
You know that we are doing so for your benefit.
But I do acknowledge of course that the rules infringe your hard-earned civil liberties.
I want to therefore thank everyone who has been inconvenienced by the lock down rules we have imposed.
The overwhelming tenor of the approach of the population has been respectful and supportive and I thank each and everyone of you personally for that.
You have my assurance that we will not maintain the rules for a moment longer than is necessary.
For now the rules will remain in place, although we have started a process of modifying them in order to gradually release more activities.
I will say more of that in a moment.
I also want today to renew my thanks for the work being done by public sector at this time.
From our doctors to our refuse collectors, to our teachers to our nurses, cleaners, consultants, intensivists, our community has cause to be grateful to you.
And that gratitude will have to continue for some months to come.
Because we will have to continue to check COVID-19’s progress in coming months.
For that reason, the Cabinet met today to consider the extension of the GENERAL social lockdown, affecting all in our community.
The lockdown regulations expire this Thursday, on the 23rd April, and a decision on whether or not to renew them must be made ahead of that date.
Additionally, we also had an obligation to consider the lockdown rules applying to our over 70s, as we have committed that these would be reviewed every 7 days.
The Cabinet heard this morning from all the heads of the agencies that are relevant to our decision-making in respect of the slowdown of Coronavirus.
The acting Medical Director of the Gibraltar Health Authority, Dr Krish Rawal, informed us of the continued state of readiness of the GHA.
This included a review of the Personal Protective Equipment available to all our GHA personnel - including our personnel at ERS.
We have more than enough PPE in Gibraltar and we will continue sourcing more.
Additionally, we reviewed the mechanisms being pursued at ERS by Antonio Marin and Susan Vallejo Baglietto.
This has to date been a success story for which we must thank all our GHA, ERS and Meddoc personnel.
We are similarly satisfied with the work being done in the domiciliary care sector, also where companies ADA and Rainbow continue to provide care to our elderly citizens in their homes.
They too have taken great care to follow infection control procedures to avoid transmission of the Coronavirus to our vulnerable elderly citizens.
Dr Rawal also informed us of the work being done in the Laboratory, in A&E, and continues preparations at the Nightingale Facility.
For that reason, I can today announce that we will be exercising our Nightingale facility tomorrow as from 10am.
You should therefore not be alarmed if you see activity in that area of Gibraltar.
Paul Balban additionally advised that more ventilators are expected to arrive in coming days.
This will make a total of 59 ventilators available in Gibraltar.
We are all therefore satisfied that the GHA is prepared for a surge.
That surge has not yet come - but it may.
And we are ready for it.
We were addressed by the Commissioner of Police on the enforcement of the lockdown regulations.
The Commissioner confirmed that the general public has worked well with the Royal Gibraltar Police.
As the weather improves, we call on each of you to continue your cooperative approach with the RGP and our Law Enforcement Agencies, HM Customs and GDP.
The Chief Secretary informed us in detail of the preparations which the public sector had undergone and the considerable work done across the board.
Ivor Lopez, the Civil Contingencies Coordinator and Samantha Sacramento, as the Minister for Civil Contingencies confirmed Gibraltar’s continued readiness to deal with the major incident I have declared.
Of course, today, the key presentation was from the Director of Public Health.
Dr Sohail Bhatti informed the Cabinet of his analysis of the current rate of infection.
The Director of Public Health believes that - with the lockdown restrictions we have put in place the rate of infection is now at R 0.6.
Additionally, our ability to carry out testing has grown greatly since the start of the pandemic.
For that reason, we are going to roll out robust additional testing.
The first will be testing of our frontline staff, not just in the GHA.
This will include testing in all our law enforcement agencies, our teachers etc.
This sample will be designed to show us if there is prevalence of the virus in our frontline staff.
The deliberations of the Cabinet this morning continued for three hours.
As a result, the daily meeting of Platinum Command has been delayed until 6pm this evening, after this Press Conference.
Ladies and Gentlemen, my dear fellow Gibraltarians, given all of the evidence that we have heard of the considerable slowing of the progress of the virus through our community, the Cabinet has this morning unanimously decided, with the agreement of the Leader of the Opposition, that the lockdown measures are working and must therefore continue.
The regulations of general application will therefore be renewed on Thursday, which is the 23rd of this month.
As I indicated last week, we have agreed that these regulations will be reviewed every seven days also.
In order to bring the relevant reviews into line with each other, the reviews will take place every Monday during the course of the regular rhythm of Cabinet meetings.
If necessary, an ad hoc meeting of the Cabinet can obviously be convened if an urgent requirement comes up for consideration.
But the conclusion is that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
But the world into which we emerge from this tunnel may be very different to the one we used to inhabit before.
The science on a vaccine and on medications is still very much in flux.
We all hope for an effective vaccine, but nothing is certain yet.
The thing that is clear is that the slowdown of the virus opens up the possibility that we can start to very slowly unlock also.
We have therefore additionally agreed that the slowing of the virus has been effective enough for us to start to pursue a strategy to carefully, slowly and prudently exit from lockdown.
This will be complex and multifaceted.
And you will each want and be required to know what you can and cannot do at various times.
In order to ensure that we have such clarity and visibility of how the lockdown will end, we will endeavour, during the course of this week, to prepare a written exit plan for Gibraltar.
This will be a very contingent document.
There will be many moving parts to it.
And it will, almost inevitably, change as matters progress.
But we are going to publish a Gibraltar plan to exit from the various lockdowns.
This will be a document developed by Task Force Restart and Recover and approved by the Government.
We will seek to approve this document at the next meeting of the Cabinet.
And we have to be clear that the virus is still in our community, even though the confirmed numbers are low.
So, in order to start a phased process of releasing the lockdown, the Director of Public Health has advised that four conditions should first be met:
The first condition is that the number of COVID-19 cases should be rising at less than 6 per day.
That condition is currently met.
The second condition is that the number of COVID-19 admissions to hospital should be less than 3 per day.
That condition is, also, currently met.
The third condition is whether there are less than two cases of COVID- 19 on ventilators in the intensive care unit.
That condition, again, is currently met.
The fourth condition is whether there are more than 25% of cases in the over 70s.
That condition is, thankfully, also currently met.
These conditions are therefore now all met.
As a result we can consider starting a very gradual unlocking process.
With those four conditions met, we are now ready to implement, first of all the opportunity for the over 70s to go out to exercise.
That will be the first relief measure.
But the over 70s will not be released from lockdown in coming weeks.
It is very likely that if you are over 70, lockdown will continue for many more weeks and I want to be upfront about that with you now.
We are imposing a lock down for your own protection and for the protection of the resources of the GHA.
Please understand that. I know you do.
When you are out exercising, you must NOT stop and socialise and you must ALWAYS keep to the social distancing rules.
The reason we are making an amendment to the regulations in coming days will be to enable you to go out to exercise.
But this exception MUST NOT be used to avoid the rest of the spirit of the regulations affecting our over 70s.
Remember that our main target in slowing the spread of COVID 19 is to save your lives.
It is that stark and it is that simple.
And our success to date is no guarantee of continued success.
So when we announce the details of the mechanism for exercising, please, go out and exercise but do not socialise.
Indeed, everyone must remember whatever age you are, that when you are out exercising, you must NOT stop and socialise and you must ALWAYS keep to the social distancing rules.
So please, exercise yes, socialising no. .
The second relief measure that we will be able to implement as a result of meeting the four conditions set out by the Director of Public Health will be to allow more businesses to re-open but with strict conditions.
We will make a more detailed statement on that in coming days.
We expect the permission for some businesses to start to re-open will be effective from the 1st May.
This will enable us to align the re-opening of some businesses with the relevant dates for claims under the BEAT COVID Measures for businesses.
For now - this week - everything will substantially stay the same, not least because many businesses have designated employees as "inactive" for the whole of the month of April.
I also want to tell you that in preparing our assessment for a detailed plan for exit, we are looking at the details of what is being proposed in every relevant nation for every relevant sector.
We want to return to normal asap.
But it will be difficult to do safely.
To an extent, that this has never happened before, therefore, there is no road map.
There is no protocol to follow.
There is no international standard to apply.
We have to experiment.
This is a process and we do not have all the answers.
No one does.
But we are asking all the right questions to get to the right conclusions.
We will only know in the future whether what we are going to do as we start to unlock is the best and right approach.
And that doesn’t stop us from wanting to unlock as safely as possible
That may mean you have to bear with us.
We will try things and perhaps have to resile from them.
We may have to change things which we embark on.
We may do things which are counterintuitive.
But we are doing is for our common good.
Please bear with us.
And insofar as we are able, we will give you clarity of decisions and clarity of direction of travel.
Today, we are talking about good news in Gibraltar.
But we have seen great pain on our television screens and in our newspapers for families in other nations.
I want to express once again our nation’s solidarity with the people of the United Kingdom, Spain and Morocco and with all nations in the world that have lost citizens to COVID-19.
The most painful scenes we have witnessed in the UK, Spain and Italy, which are the nations we may have seen the most of on our television screens, are the scenes of people dying alone.
Relatives seeing loved ones pass without being able to be close to them.
That is what we do not want for our people here.
That is what we are working so hard to avoid.
My dear fellow Gibraltarians.
Everything we have done, we have done to protect lives.
To ensure the safety and security of our people.
Because of the extraordinary powers we have taken, we have worked more closely with the Opposition than ever before.
And on that note, I want to thank the Leader of the Opposition and his Parliamentary colleagues for allowing us the space to work outside the normal rhythm of politics.
In this war, we have been moments away from a government of national unity.
We have been able to avoid that to date.
But I will not hesitate to convene such a government if I have to.
Not to consolidate power in my hands any further.
But to ensure that all the powers of the Government are channelled exclusively to the protection of our people.
It has not yet been necessary to do so, and it may be that the threat of that is receding.
But in my judgment it was right that I should invite the opposition to work alongside us on these issues.
I genuinely believe this level of cooperation at this time is what our people required of us.
We are keeping party politics and political egos out of this.
We are looking out first and foremost for the interests of our people.
And that is what we are in fact, elected to do.
To look after the safety and security of our people above all else.
They would expect no less of us.
When we first took our faltering steps together in politics in 1991, Damon Bossino, Keith Azopardi, Joseph Garcia, and Fabian Picardo were committing themselves to work for Gibraltar and its people.
Today, almost thirty years later, by working together we are working best for Gibraltar and its people.
I believe that Keith has fully understood that.
Both he and Mr Feetham have been Ministers and both understand the remarkable ability of Government to act and to react and also the limits of that ability.
I therefore thank the GSD for the approach they have taken, in particular on the BEAT Covid measures and the emergency budget measures on which we have worked also with Mr Clinton.
Having said that, of course we all want democracy to continue on the basis of a Westminster system.
That will mean a return to adversarial mechanisms of parliamentary accountability.
I expect Parliament may be able to return in late May or in June.
I do hope that when we do return that our exchanges will be no less robust than in the past.
But I do believe that they will also likely be less personalised.
In fact, I do hope we have also fixed forever some of the personalised nature of the debate.
As we move forward we have a chance to do something very positive in the political fray as we do in all areas of post pandemic life in Gibraltar.
I think it is important, as we go forward, that we should take the opportunity to deliver to Gibraltar a highly functioning democracy that leaves behind it the more personalised aspects of the debate.
For now, let us not underestimate the hard work and efforts that lies ahead.
We have achieved our first objective.
We have slowed the virus
We have protected our GHA.
But we have a long road still to travel.
We will be free of this virus.
And then, we will all smile again.
It is now my unusual pleasure to invite the Leader of the Opposition to make his own statement before we open ourselves to questions from the members of the press who are here in person and from those who have sent their questions in.
Before we finish this afternoon, there are three further matters I want to advise you of.
The first is that this week I will be convening a meeting of CELAC to further consider additional aspects of the support of our businesses in Gibraltar.
The second is to advise you to that I have this afternoon written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada to express the condolences of the Government and People of Gibraltar in respect of the deadly shooting – the worst in Canada’s history that has occurred there.
The people of Canada have long stood by Gibraltar and we extend our condolences to them especially at this very difficult time.
The third matter is to note that tomorrow is Her Majesty the Queen’s birthday.
This year Her Majesty has asked that the date should not be marked by gun salutes.
I send Her Majesty best wishes today from all of Gibraltar, not least her Government and Loyal Opposition.
Well Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you very much for watching.
Sincere thanks to the members of the media who have joined us this afternoon at No6 Convent Place.
Thank you all for tuning in to hear the results of the deliberations of the Cabinet this morning.
And thank you for tuning in to what is quite an unprecedented joint press conference between me and the Leader of the Opposition.
Thank you all very much.
I reiterate – THE LOCKDOWN CONTINUES.
DO NOT FORGET THE HORRORS OF COVID 19
PLANS TO RELEASE THE LOCKDOWN WILL BE PUBLISHED AS SOON AS WE ARE ABLE.
FOR NOW NOTHING CHANGES.
WASH YOUR HANDS.
CATCH IT, BIN IT, KILL IT