Good afternoon and welcome to the Government’s daily briefing on this bank holiday as we commemorate workers’ memorial day.
Today I will address the significance of workers’ memorial day particularly in the context of the worldwide pandemic we are in.
I will also set out the guiding principles which will be applied to any decision for a gradual return to school as we start to come out of lockdown.
I will, however, start by giving you the COVID 19 figures as at 8.30 this morning.
Total swabs taken: 2397
Result pending: 246
Results received: 2151
Confirmed cases: 141
These figures include the new random testing programme for frontline workers where 148 swabs have been taken and all of those are still pending.
The results I have given show that since yesterday we have had 24 results received with no additional confirmed cases.
Still, we have 246 results pending of which 148 are from the frontline workers’ random sampling.
In the last 24 hours, there have been 34 attendances at A&E - 8 with COVID symptoms.
6 of these were swabbed.
There have been 2 admissions to the John COVID Ward and no new admissions to the COVID ICU.
Information briefing 28th April 2020
Good afternoon everyone I hope that you are safe and keeping well.
Thank you for being with us at again at our information briefing.
We have heard today’s statistics as Gilbert has read them out. We have the same number of people who are confirmed positive for COVID-19 today as we did yesterday, and that is double the number of people when I last addressed you almost a week ago (6 days ago in fact).
I say this as a reminder of 2 things:
- that the virus very much continues to be among us; and
- that our figures could change at any minute.
To get a better picture of how prevalent the virus is amongst us, the Director of Public Health has commenced another random swabbing process, this one will be focused on front line workers.
You will recall that a few weeks ago, the Director of Public Health undertook random swabbing of 400 people, of these 10 swabs returned positive for COVID-19.
The current exercise, commenced a few days ago and that involved, as we heard Gilbert say, 148 samples that have been taken from frontline staff and this includes officers from the Royal Gibraltar Police and the Prison Service.
Generally, though, our numbers while having increased, continue to be low. They are low because of the lockdown measures that we took early on. Containing the curve enabled us to get ready for a surge. However, the more we move, the more we move the virus, let us not forget that.
That is why our advice to stay home remains. This is particularly so for those who are over 70 because the evidence shows that people who are over the age of 70 are more vulnerable to be affected.
As you will already know, tomorrow, the law for the over 70s lockdown will be changed and relaxed. As from tomorrow, that means that the law will allow for an additional exception to those that are already in place and people who are over the age 70 will be permitted to leave home in order to exercise.
The risk of the virus, however, continues to be the same and the advice to stay home remains.
We have, however, following the advice of the Director of Public Health, made this provision in an attempt to balance the importance of safeguarding from the virus at home and the need to exercise and enjoy the fresh air.
It is because of the risks, that we are taking measures to provide safe spaces, so that people who are over 70 can benefit from this golden hour and you will have heard me refer to this when I last addressed you.
During the weekdays, and as confirmed by the Chief Minister yesterday, we have identified 4 locations that will be made available to people over the age of 70 only, and they may be accompanied by an adult member of their household too.
These areas will be made safe by sanitising them during the period of 10am to noon for those who wish to take this up. Now that does not mean that people need to be there for all of this time, indeed the general advice, not just for people who are over 70, when we discuss exercise it has always been said that 20 minutes a day is enough.
Our elderly population are of course very precious to us, we are doing as much as we can to protect them. These measures that we have announced are of course no guarantee and everyone needs to be mindful that the risk emerges the minute that you leave front door. We have made provision for special facilities should you wish to take these up, but you have heard our clear advice on the subject, the rest is up to you.
I would like to dedicate some time this afternoon to speaking about mental wellbeing and mental welfare.
We find ourselves in strange times indeed. It is not easy to stay home for prolonged periods; it is not easy because it is not normal. Not much of what we are doing of late is normal is it? We have had to change the way we work, the way we see and greet each other, even the way that we celebrate birthdays.
Most people are by now getting used to the idea and managing well. We are after all a resilient community and as a people we have become adept to facing challenges over the generations.
You will have heard me mention before that we have specifically set up a COVID-19 Psychological and Mental Health Support team to help us during this period and I would like to give a summary of the work that they have conducted.
The team consists of deployed Government public sector professionals in the areas of psychology, therapy, human resource management and emotional welfare.
The objective of this team, instructed by the office of Civil Contingencies is twofold, primarily as presented in prior press conferences, the COVID-19 Mental Welfare Team was tasked to establish a support programme, for essential services front line staff. The second objective was to ensure systems and mental welfare support was established for the rest of the community.
The past 5 weeks, since this team was set up, have seen the team create and deliver repeat training packages on “Front Line Resilience Management”. This has been delivered to the GHA, Care Agency, Education and Elderly Residential Services. A total of 224 managers or key professionals have been trained. Active Listening Training has also been provided to The Education Senior Management Teams.
The training programme called FRM has been adapted by the COVID Welfare Team from Trauma Resilience Management Training. The FRM training offered to senior managers in charge of staff groups, enables structured welfare assessments for such staff to include, an internal peer support system between managers and colleagues. Additionally, the tools supplied through this training further enable managers to conduct welfare checks at the start and end of shifts. Such welfare checks importantly help identify which staff may require extra specialised provision or support. Such identified staff would then be further supported and referred to an in-house, on-site specialist Counselling Support Service.
This service has also been set up by the COVID-19 Mental Welfare team. The concept of professional onsite support during working hours lies in facilitating a space and opportunity to diffuse stress levels, enabling where appropriate a return to the workstation and ultimately building staff resilience through a supportive network.
This Counselling Support Service for staff is already operational and offers 7 days a week support between 9am and 9pm. Currently 7 Counsellors from within the public sector have been placed on a rota to offer this service. Referrals can be made directly to them for anyone from within the public sector.
This welfare service has also been extended to Customs and HM Prison by members of this team as well. The team additionally conduct welfare visits.
The COVID Mental Welfare Team has further set up a team of voluntary, but fully accredited counsellors to support the community for any issues pertinent to anxiety, fear, nervousness, stress and worry in relation to COVID-19. This service has been operational for the past 4 weeks. These Counsellors for the Community can be accessed via the telephone number 200 41818 who will ensure persons are contacted by a counsellor to work on any issues being presented. So, as you can see, over the last 5 weeks there has been a very well thought out plan by this team of professionals to ensure that the support is there. Whether it is in house to our front-line professional staff or to people in the community who may be feeling anxiety.
Now in order to supplement this, the team is also looking at online platforms so that automated help can also be provided by way of information and they are also looking at developing apps so that general information can also be gathered.
This week this team will be launching a befriending service for people in Gibraltar to support those in the community who may live alone and may be struggling during these times. This service will be offered to people who have already been identified by the Care Agency as part of their audit process or may also apply to become part of this service. Contact details on this service will be made available during the course of this week.
What I have explained are new services, a new initiative that has been set up precisely for this period and difficulties that may arise for people in community during this period, needless to say existing mental health services that are provided by the GHA and by other agencies such as Care Agency and Bruce’s Farm also continue. They may be offered in a different way, some counselling sessions may be offered remotely, but the services at Ocean Views, Community Mental Health Service and the Primary Care Service continue to deliver for our community in the same way in which they have always done.
I would like to thank the strategic team, the COVID-19 Mental Health Team and this includes:
Assisted by Amy Chipolina and Kyle Bear.
Lizanne Peralta heads the volunteers counselling team.
Many thanks also to all the counsellors who have given up a lot of their time to volunteer their services.
This very essential team is led by Giselle Carreras and I would like to thank everybody so much for the intense way in which they have worked to deliver for Gibraltar during this period.
Moving on to other matters, a reminder that as Dr Rawal said a few days ago, there will be another exercise to test St. Bernard’s Hospital and the Nightingale facility on Thursday as we continue to prepare ourselves and to be ready in the event that there should be a surge. Of course, we do not want to see that, but we need to be prepared, nevertheless.
Today is Regimental Day, as well as Workers Memorial Day and I would like to pay tribute to everyone from the Royal Gibraltar Regiment and particularly to its current and retired members who have worked so closely with us to support us throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you.
Finally, as Gilbert, the Minister for Employment, has said, the Chief Minister and he, along with the Trade Unions have marked today as Worker’s Memorial Day. Also, and Gilbert referred this this, I have a video of the tribute that has been led by Minister Balban and the GHA staff at St. Bernard’s Hospital today in honour of the NHS staff who have lost their lives to this. It was certainly very moving. Thankfully, this is not something that has happened here, but it is very right and fitting that the GHA have chosen to mark it in the way that they have.
It is indeed a poignant reminder that we are all in this together, in Gibraltar and globally. We will get through this if we stick together, if we follow the rules and follow the official advice. Let us not forget that this is a virus that is very new and one that professionals continue to study and learn about and the advice that we receive changes rapidly. We will always be guided by the clinical and public health advice in the decisions that we take.
So, on that note I will repeat the official advice which of course you all know by now:
Stay home, stay safe, wash your hands regularly and if you sneeze catch it, bin it, kill it. I would also say and invite everyone to be kind to each other and support one another and keep smiling as we will get through this.
As I mentioned earlier, today is a bank holiday – workers’ memorial day.
For many of you who have been at home in accordance with the lockdown regulations and Government’s advice, today will not feel much different to other days.
It is, however, important to reflect, particularly as we face the COVID 19 pandemic, on the significance of workers’ memorial day.
Today we remember the sacrifices of all those men and women who have lost their lives or been seriously injured whilst doing their job.
Men and women who went to work one day, as many of us do, and who never came home.
Men and women who may have suffered an injury or become infected with a disease whilst doing their job and who may, subsequently, have succumbed to that injury or disease.
We honour, salute and remember all those men and women.
At no time has the significance of the loss of life for simply going to work been more poignant than these days when we face the battle against this disease and we see thousands upon thousands of selfless individuals put themselves at risk in order to help others, in order to save lives and, ultimately, to help us win the battle against this virus.
I refer, in particular, to those health and care professionals who, regrettably, are paying the ultimate price by looking after and seeking to protect those that are infected and become ill.
It is true, and long may it stay that way, that we have had no COVID death at all in Gibraltar although we have had a number of health professionals infected with the virus.
What we cannot do, however, is simply look inwardly and comfort ourselves with a low number of cases, a low number of hospital admissions, a low number of patients needed intensive care treatment and the fact that we have, to date, had no deaths in Gibraltar as a result of COVID 19.
What happens in other countries affects us.
Indeed, as we have seen with this pandemic what happens in far-off countries like China has a significant effect on all of us and on our lives.
The virus has been brought to our shores.
These days we don’t have to look just at China but what happens on our own doorstep, in Spain, in the rest of Europe and in the UK – with many countries still experiencing many hundreds of deaths every day.
Until the virus is contained or eliminated, all of us are affected by what happens in these countries or even anywhere in the four corners of the world.
In the same way, the efforts and sacrifices of many thousands of individuals around the world also affect us.
Those efforts don’t just save or try to save individual lives in those countries, they help us in a collective battle – a battle of monumental proportions which none of us asked for or wanted.
This is a global effort by all of us.
The knowledge and data we obtain from the daily interventions and treatment of patients by health and care professionals serves the scientific community as they seek to find a vaccine or a medicine that works against the Coronavirus.
It serves public health professionals as they devise their strategies to deal with the pandemic and put together their advice to Governments.
And of course it serves Governments and other decision-makers as we consider the measures that are necessary to protect our communities.
And so, on a day like today, workers’ memorial day, we do well to pause and reflect on all - wherever they may be - who on a daily basis go to work to save lives and end up paying with their own lives.
Spain alone has suffered over 20,000 deaths from COVID 19.
It has been suggested that several thousand of these deaths relate to health and care professionals.
In the UK, there was a report last week of at least 119 healthcare professionals having died from COVID 19.
Doctors, nurses, surgeons, those in the ambulance service, hospital porters or cleaners or receptionists, those looking after the elderly including care home nurse Larni Zuniga from the Phillipines who fought for his life alongside Boris Johnson in the intensive care unit at London's St Thomas' Hospital.
The Prime Minister was able to recover and has now returned to work but this nurse did not.
He, along with thousands of others, went to the UK to serve and care for its people and is just one of those workers who paid with his life for the good of others.
We honour and salute them all and say thank you for what you have done for us.
Earlier today, the Chief Minister, myself and Unite the Union attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the lobby of Parliament.
In contrast to other years, the number of people present was very small and social distancing was naturally observed.
We held a minute’s silence as we had previously advised our community to observe.
In addition, the GHA held a one minute silence on the steps leading to St Bernard’s hospital to remember and celebrate the lives of all those NHS Healthcare Workers that have lost their lives as a result of COVID-19.
The minute’s silence was signaled at the start and finish by ambulances with their sirens.
It is worth recalling the motto for workers’ memorial day – remember the dead, fight for the living.
How appropriate at a time when we are all fighting for and contributing to the effort to save lives.
Before I end, I would like to say something about the steps to bring about the end of confinement insofar as it affects Education.
As the Chief Minister has announced, a route map out of lockdown is being prepared by the Government.
We expect to be able to share that route map very shortly.
One of the areas affected by the lockdown was Education with most of our schools closed, others operating a childcare supervision facility primarily for children of key workers whilst at the same time providing a meaningful and productive home learning programme.
As you would expect, our schools will be part of the route map out of lockdown.
The Department of Education itself is developing a roadmap for a return to school.
This will be finalised in discussion and agreement with the teachers’ union, NASUWT, and will be part of the Government’s route map.
We had a meeting on this with the Union yesterday and will have another one tomorrow.
There are four guiding principles of the plan proposed by the Department of Education which are designed to prioritise the safety and security of both the children in schools and the teachers and other staff – as well as the safety and security of the whole community.
The four principles are as follows:
Firstly, a gradual, slow return to schools to be achieved with a prudent pause between each step.
There are just 10 weeks to go from today before the end of term.
Three weeks and two days from that period are half days.
We have not yet taken the first step for a return to school and it will still be several weeks before we do.
During this term we expect to take two steps with three week pauses in between.
It is our intention to apply the school calendar as regards half days and end of term although, as we have said on other occasions, no-one quite knows what is around the corner with this pandemic.
Still, that is our intention.
It will be clear from what I have said that a gradual, slow approach with appropriate pauses between each step will not result in a return to school for all children, nor, indeed, for the majority of children.
Most children will, therefore, not be returning to school before the end of the summer term.
The second guiding principle is that public health advice on social distancing and hand hygiene is to be respected throughout the period to the end of the summer term.
This means that children returning to school will be split between the morning and the afternoon so that there is sufficient room in the schools for small classes allowing the rules on social distancing to be observed.
Thirdly, children who are at a critical stage of their learning journey are brought back first.
In assessing the rationale for the order of the year groups brought back to school first, the Department of Education is considering every aspect of needs of the children in different years of education.
Fourthly, the Department of Education and schools will maintain, to the extent and for as long as possible, the following services:
- home learning for those not able to attend school;
- childcare supervision facilities for those parents who need to work and who are unable to arrange alternative childcare without involving relatives over the age of 70;
- extended hours for children of key workers who need to work shifts.
Once the specific arrangements are made and announced, a letter will be sent to parents informing them of this.
For those whose children will be returning to school, details will also be given in relation to arrival and dismissal times and procedures and advising children to bring a pencil case with their own equipment (including a pencil, pen, ruler, eraser, sharpener) so that the need for sharing is reduced and maintenance of social distancing is promoted and enhanced.
As I have said, most children will not return to school before the end of the summer term.
There will, therefore, be as need for some children to make use of the childcare supervision facilities which we currently have in place.
The criteria to attend those childcare supervision facilities will remain the same.
These will available for:
- Children whose parents need to work and who are unable to arrange alternative childcare without involving relatives over the age of 70;
- Children attending St Martin’s;
- Children not falling within these categories but where there are special circumstances requiring attendance at a childcare supervision facility and this is approved by the Director of Education (for example, looked after children or vulnerable children).
No-one should believe, as we start to take these steps out of lockdown, that there will be a return to normality any time soon.
That will certainly not happen.
I reiterate that the return will be slow and it will be gradual.
That is how we best protect those attending our schools and the community at large.
That remains our priority.
That remains our focus.
There are, undoubtedly, immense challenges ahead.
We are not out of the woods yet even if we start to take steps to ease some of the restrictions.
Every step that we take will be reviewed on a constant basis as we monitor the effect of that step and we ensure that the conditions for unlocking continue to be met.
Just as we have all made huge efforts to stay at home and stay safe, it will be necessary for everyone to cooperate as we start to take, small, tentative and gradual steps out of confinement.
Whilst all this takes place, our advice will continue to be that unless you absolutely have to go out you should stay at home.
And if it is necessary to go out, make sure that you observe the rules on social distancing and hand washing as these have been shown to be the best measures to protect yourselves, and others, from the virus.
Some children will be moving to a new school in September.
An intense piece of transition work is normally completed with these pupils during this term, in order to prepare them for the transition to their new school.
It is critical to do some of this work with these children.
The Instituto Cervantes is offering an online resource for year 12 students.
The arrangement is entirely voluntary so that students are free to use this resource if they wish to.
The Government cannot say how many students will avail themselves of this resource.”
Advice: masks are recommended for use indoors where social distancing cannot be observed.
Advice is that by wearing a mask you are stopping your germs getting to someone else.
This is not, and has never bee, PPE – it is not personal protective equipment it is for the protection of others.
We have made masks available in the four facilities that we have open for use by those persons who wish to do in the circumstances described by Dr Bhatti – indoors where social distancing cannot observed.
That does not change the Government’s position or advice – we must observe social distancing and regularly wash our hands.
That is the best protection.
I understand that NASUWT has raised the issue of face masks for teachers and that you would like arrangements for these to be in place for Monday.
As you know, throughout the COVID 19 crisis Government has taken all decisions with public health advice. The advice by the Director of Public Health, Dr Bhatti, has been that there is no need, on public health grounds, for teachers to wear face masks.
Following your most recent request, I asked the Director of Education on Friday to seek further advice from Dr Bhatti.
Dr Bhatti's advice is that where social distances cannot be maintained indoors, a mask can work to avoid infecting others. He adds that this is not, and has never been, personal protection equipment. This is consistent with Dr Bhatti's tweet of 24 April where he said: "[W]e are advising that wearing masks in enclosed spaces (only), esp where social spacing cannot be maintained, is good. You are stopping your germs harming someone else".
Dr Bhatti reiterated the position at the Government's daily briefing yesterday where he said that the wearing of masks by asymptomatic carriers will help prevent others from infection. According to Dr Bhatti, the use of face masks indoors and where social distancing cannot be maintained serves to reduce the risk of infection being spread by the individual wearing the mask.
Guidance issued by the Department for Education in the UK is that; "The scientific advice indicates that educational staff do not require personal protective equipment. This is needed by medical and care professionals providing specific close contact care... The advice for schools, colleges and childcare facilities is to follow steps on social distancing, handwashing and other hygiene measures, and cleaning of surfaces." This last sentence reflects precisely what we have been doing in Gibraltar.
I set out all the above for context and for you to be aware of the advice we are receiving. I do understand any concerns and anxieties by staff, concerns and anxieties which we all have in this health crisis. Our priority is for everyone to remain safe.
I can confirm that Government is prepared to make face masks available in schools for use by those who wish to do so and in the circumstances described by Dr Bhatti (enclosed spaces only and where social distancing cannot be maintained).
Finally, I would reiterate the advice which Government is constantly giving which is that the best way to protect ourselves from COVID 19 is by maintaining social distancing and washing hands frequently.