Minister for Public Health John Cortes
Good afternoon from No 6 Convent Place, to another of our daily updates on COVID-19, today Tuesday 5th May.
I am joined this afternoon by Consultant Geriatrician and Clinical Director of Elderly Residential Services, my friend and former colleague at GHA, Dr Antonio Marin.
I want first of all though, to express the Government’s - and I am sure Gibraltar’s - condolences to the family of Major Frank Dellipiani on his passing. The Chief Minister has already expressed our condolences through a press statement earlier today, but it is fitting that I should do this also here as I address you live. Apart from his career as a businessman and in the Royal Gibraltar Regiment, Frank was a Minister with successive AACR Governments from 1976 to1988, serving as Minister for Municipal Services, Minister for Education and Minister for Housing, Labour & Social Security in successive terms.
As Minister for Culture I want to specifically recognise Frank’s contribution to that particular world, especially through his love of the stage, and to pay tribute to his many accomplished performances in the world of drama. Rest in Peace Frank, as you tread the boards in a better place.
It isn’t easy to prepare something to say at a daily press conference when by now you’ve all heard so much, and actually know so much about what’s going on. The advantage is of course that there are messages that we can keep repeating because they need to be heard, and heard again, and not forgotten. So you will forgive me if today I repeat what I have said before, and indeed what many of my colleagues have said before about COVID-19 and our response to it.
There are, as we know, constant developments in the research into the virus and the disease that is being undertaken around the world.
I can report on some of this, in the knowledge that a lot of it could change completely in days, or even hours. We have to respond to the changes in evidence and in circumstances.
This is a time when it is actually a good thing that politicians change their minds! In these circumstances, it would be dangerous if we did not, if we were not flexible and responsive to changing information.
This is NOT mixed messaging. It is responsible Government. It is not changing rhetoric, it is responding to science.
The latest that appears to be emerging is that transmission of the virus from children to adults seems to be very weak. Other research seems also to suggest that it is possible that you may not catch COVID-19 more than once, that there is some effective immunity - which would of course, be a good thing; BUT, and it’s a huge BUT, this still needs to be confirmed, and so there can be no immunity passports issued yet to those who have happily overcome the infection.
The third bit of useful information I’ve caught up with recently is that confidence seems to be growing in there being a reliable test for antibodies that can detect whether or not you’ve had the virus. These will of course be obtained as soon as they are available.
As you all know, we are now in the process of unlocking. This is a dangerous place to be.
I for one have no doubt that this cautious unlocking its justified. We have had very, very few new cases now for weeks and many recoveries.
This means that we are, in Gibraltar, pushing the virus to extinction. People are recovering, and so killing the virus and, by keeping to our lockdown measures, we are preventing it spreading. This is exactly the way to make a species extinct, and SAR-CoV-2, the virus that causes CIOVD-19 is not in the protected species list, even for me! This is one species that I would like to see extinct!
So we respond, by lifting some of the measures we had no choice but to introduce. Measures that have impacted on our liberties and on our lives. So we welcome the gradual unlocking. But it IS a dangerous time.
We know the virus is still out there in Gibraltar, and outside Gibraltar, and it can still come back and kill us. So we have to act now with more care than ever before and not drop our guard.
We now know what we have to do. We have to stay home - still. We must only go out as specifically allowed by the law, and not take these stages in lockdown as an excuse to go out and socialise. And we must not try and find new excuses either. That is what the virus is waiting for!
Before this all started - and it’s just a few months ago - we were not nearly as aware of the dangers. Now we are. Now we know we have to keep our distance, that we have to protect ourselves and others. So let’s make it so.
Some of what many of us saw at the weekend, especially on Saturday, was stretching it a bit. Perhaps not as bad as some put it across (and we must remember not to judge others without first looking at ourselves). But some people did ignore the advice and likely infringed the law. And you know who you are.
Please, DO NOT DO THIS. Irresponsible behaviour is the biggest threat to unlocking, the biggest threat to our getting back to a more normal existence, to meeting our families, sending our children to school. It is the biggest threat to getting our economy back on track.
And as we overcome the public health issues, getting our economy going is critical to our wellbeing as a community and to us coming back to some normality. And there is no reason why the future has to be normality minus. It could, in many respects be normality plus. But for that we have to first beat this bug.
So you have to be even more careful during unlocking than ever before.
The Chief Minister yesterday announced new measures which we had discussed in Cabinet. As Fabian said yesterday, the full document will be published soon. As you can imagine it is a very complex one, with many different things to be borne in mind.
One important point to note, once again, is that it has to be subject to change, as new research results emerge, and depending on how we behave, as reflected in whether the incidence of the virus increases significantly.
If, for example, last weekend did provide the virus the opportunity to jump from people to people, from household to household, because of people trying to fool the law, then we could have a surge next week. We will need to wait and see.
I am of course particularly excited about the measures that we are planning which will have a beneficial impact on the Environment. I am able to report once again on air quality. I am pleased to say that the latest update from the Environmental Agency, which takes us up to 30 April, shows improvement in air quality is sustained and has even further improved slightly. Indeed, the only aspect that had not significantly improved at the last report two weeks before, which were particle (that’s PM10) levels at Rosia Road, has actually improved also. We must do everything we can in order to keep these improved levels of air quality in the future.
Within another of my areas of responsibility, in Culture, we continue working on our popular Cultural online Programme, and on setting up cultural TV.
Cultural Services have launched the second short story and art competitions for school years 2 to 13.
The annual spring visual arts competition will this year have a digital format. The closing date entries is this Friday.
Friday is also the closing date for expressing interest for those who wish to take part in the planned LEGO exhibition.
As you know, cultural organisations and individuals continue their activity at this time, with many online activities daily.
Tomorrow I start a round of discussions with heads of different dance schools and academies to look at how we are going to progress to the next stages in their areas. Don’t worry, you will be contacted over the next few days if we haven’t been in touch yet. You know we know who you are, as I’d met with all of you in the few months before the crisis got to Gibraltar.
Details of how we are intending to unlock more and more cultural activities - so much a part of our lives in Gibraltar - will be included in the document the Chief Minister referred to yesterday.
Among the steps we will be taking in the process is acquiring thermal screens for our cultural facilities, and we are looking at ways in which we can re-open the Library, contemporary galleries, and the Museum soon, providing limited access with pre-booked times, and ensuring social distancing. We will be providing more information soon.
We have had a fabulous response to the initiative to paint front line workers, with no less than 35 artists expressing an interest.
The first artwork submitted is entitled “Lest We Forget” and has been created by Stuart Santos, encapsulating his fears over the current situation.
The aim is to organise an exhibition with all the artworks once this is possible.
Now for today’s figures.
At A&E, in the 24 hours to 8.30 this morning, there were 52 attendances, 11 with COVID symptoms. Of these 7 were swabbed. There was one admission to CCU1 and one admission to John Ward. The patient admitted to CCU1 had a previous negative swab and again today the swab result was negative. The patient admitted to John Ward also had a negative swab result.
There are a total of 380 free beds in our hospitals, combining St Bernards with the 238 in Nightingale, plus an additional 32 beds in Elderly Residential Services of which 25 are isolation beds.
So we are very well provided, with beds available for over 1% of the population ion Gibraltar.
The latest test statistics are as follow:
So this still looks fairly well under control, thanks to the hard work of many and the co-operation of the vast majority of our people.
BUT, if we want to transition back to our normality - or normality Plus - soon we must not drop our guard. We must be more aware than ever and act accordingly.
Tomorrow I will have the pleasure with my colleagues in GHA to have the next of our regular online meeting with Professor Heymann of the WHO. I look forward to obtaining inside information on the latest research and thinking which I will of course share with you again at the next opportunity.
OK, so, I’ve said all this before. But it’s important:
Let’s beat the bug. Let’s not forget we still have work to do.
Keep to our advice. Stay home. Wash hands. Keep your distance.
As we release the restrictions, let’s be even more aware, even more wary. Let’s be more conscious of distance, wash hands more.
Make sure you stay at home. If you have symptoms and call 111.
Make all that we have done be worth it.
Remember the symptoms to look out for:
Fever, a new cough, sore throat, fatigue/muscle pain, being unable to complete a sentence without snatching breath and possibly: headache, loose motions, loss of taste/smell & appetite.
If you have these,
For other COVID-related enquiries call 20041818.
If you are unwell with other things, don’t neglect your health. The GHA is there for you too. Call 20007910.
If you need a Repeat prescription, call 20007909.
Emergency 190 or 199
Stay home. Stay safe. Follow our advice.
Let’s beat it.
Have a good afternoon. Because, for now, you can.