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HMGoG Press Conference 16th May 2020

 

Minister for Health Paul Balban

 

Good afternoon.

 

Today I am joined by my good friend and colleague Samantha Sacramento, the Minister for Civil Contingencies who has been working non-stop since this crisis began.

 

She has been locked away in the bunker with her team ensuring that Gibraltar can be in the best possible place.

 

I would like to start today by thanking you all for taking the time to listen to our press conferences over the many weeks.

 

As we approach our Lockout Phase 2 which starts on Monday our daily conferences will come to an end.

 

We will be able to see our family and friends in gatherings of up to 12 people.

 

We will be able to start to regain part of our lives back.

 

Some sports will also resume.

 

BUT we must always try to keep our distance because even though we are able to once again begin to interact a little more as we used to, COVID 19 has not disappeared.

 

This is most important.

 

We can never know where we will be in 2 weeks’ time or in 2 months’ time and we can only look to other cities and other countries to try to see patterns and learn from their experiences.

 

We are geographically closest to Spain and will also be most affected by the UK due to our strong links and proximity.

 

Spain yesterday reported a fear of a second wave which has been seen in many other cities.

 

Releasing the lockdown was always going to be far more difficult than locking down itself.

 

The very act of being locked down over time leads to a natural urge to want to be let out and run back to how we each perceived to be our normality with our customs of social interaction and social closeness that gives so many of us, that sense of comfort.

 

But today, we are in a very good place.

 

Our rates of infection are very low and we have all worked very hard to stay safe and keep our most vulnerable safe.

 

…..and we have achieved just that.

 

Now our best friend is time.

 

We must buy as much time as possible to ensure that somewhere we can find ways of ridding ourselves of COVID 19, be it by way of a vaccine or some type of treatment close in the future.

 

Our aggressive contact tracing program will ensure that if we have any new infections we may be able to keep them at bay and restricted to those with the infection.

 

Contact tracing is what will allow us more freedom but we must all be sensible and not rush out as if school had ended for the summer, because it has not!!

 

If we don’t keep respecting the rules, even though the law may no longer impose these upon us, we may find ourselves once again at increased risk of infection.

 

In this way we may have the best chance to live healthier lives, better lives, appreciating that we are susceptible to not only COVID 19 but any other virus that may come our way in the future.

 

Things we take for granted today, we may not have tomorrow and the things that are the most important to us have to be our families, our parents, our grandparents and our health because these are irreplaceable.

 

Our material possessions are worthless if we are not fit and healthy to enjoy them.

 

BUT there are so many positives that have resulted from COVID 19.

 

Our environment is so much cleaner, our air quality so much better.

 

So many people have used this time positively to exercise, to walk, jog and to cycle.

 

COVID has planted the seeds for a healthier future. It has made us look deeper into ourselves.

 

COVID has taught us that it is not only those over 70 that are vulnerable but also those who are obese, and who as a result of their obesity may have uncontrolled diabetes or even underlying heart disease or any other disease that is made worse by obesity.

 

Even the younger, unhealthier and un-fitter members of our community may be even more at risk than fit and active over 70’s of normal body weight.

 

We must take particular attention of our diet, we must eat well, avoiding unhealthy fatty and sugary foods, eating balanced meals with low levels of fat.

 

We must eat fruit and vegetables which so many people avoid.

 

We must take regular exercise.

 

We have seen so many people power walking and cycling – we must all try to keep this up now.

 

As a Government we will try to do our best to make our streets healthier, cleaner and safer, to try to encourage people to go out for a walk, to eventually want to walk to the restaurant and then walk home afterwards, to keep fit.

 

The more active we are, the healthier and less at risk we will be of disease, infection and illness.

 

I will now share today’s COVID Statistics:

 

As of this morning at 8am:

 

The total number of swabs taken so far was 5060

There are 182 results pending

And the total results received to date is 4878

 

We have a total of 4613 negative test results

with 147 confirmed cases and 2 active cases which is one down from yesterday.

We therefore now have 145 recovered cases.

 

 

Our hospital statistics are as follows:

 

In the last 24 hours there have been a total of 52 attendances to A&E.

 

Of these, 5 had symptoms that could be related to COVID 19.

 

There have been no admissions to John Ward, which is our COVID Ward in the last 24hours.

 

There was 1 admission to COVID CCU overnight which has resulted negative and will be transferred to a clean ward.

 

Once again, we have no suspected or confirmed COVID cases in the hospital.

 

 

Drive through

 

A total of 2270 swabs have been taken via our Drive Thru facility and we are now able to turn around test results within 2 hours.

 

As the GHA starts to plan our restart of clinical activity, we are initially focusing on screening services to detect any cancer or other serious condition where symptoms may not be apparent.

 

I specifically refer to mammography, cervical screening, Colon Ca screening, aortic aneurysm screening and well person screening.

 

However, I wish to reassure our community that urgent cancer referrals have never stopped at all during this time.

 

As of the 22nd of May, GHA Unlocking Stage 2 of our GHA restart commences, with patients who are on the early recall lists for screening being invited for their screening investigation including endoscopies, mammograms, smear tests and ultrasounds.

 

GHA Unlocking Stage 3 – on or around the 12th of June, will see the commencement of routine, non-urgent screening of the healthy population.

 

This will initially take place observing the rules of social distancing by ensuring gaps between appointment times to minimise the chances of patients mixing in waiting areas.

 

At GHA Unlocking Stage 4, on or around the 3rd July, we will commence full lists of patient screening tests because at that point, if we have managed to remain COVID free or have very low infection rates, we will be in a great position to speed up and hopefully start to regain ground on any waiting lists that have developed.

 

 

Surgical Services

 

We are very aware that many people are on waiting lists for surgery and we have not forgotten this.

 

As we gradually restart our clinical activity, we still need to ensure that it is safe for any patient to come in to hospital and not contract COVID 19.

 

Also, evidence shows that during the recovery period after an operation, if a patient contracts COVID, the outcome can be very poor as the immune system is already strained dealing with the process of recovery itself.

 

So, some operations in particular, including the bigger operations such as joint replacements, which require very sterile conditions, pose a significant risk as we cannot guarantee that COVID is not within the community.

 

Surgery will resume as soon as we can ensure that it will be fully safe to bring someone back in to the hospital environment.

 

We would not want any complications that could result in grave harm for a procedure that could wait a little longer.

 

Neverthless, we are very aware that some people awaiting orthopaedic surgery may be in great discomfort or pain and this can be very hard to understand and accept.

 

For our Elderly Residential Services, other timelines will apply for their restart as we need to be extra careful to ensure that our most vulnerable remain protected.

 

These will run behind the GHA Unlocking Stages for the general population within the acute hospital setting.

 

Of particular interest to all those watching at home, with family members within the ERS facilities, will be when visitors will be allowed back in to visit their loved ones.

 

The plan is that the first visitors will be permitted as of the second week of June whereby one visitor per day wearing PPE will be allowed to visit between 4-6pm.

 

By or around the 6th of July, 2 visitors will be allowed to visit together, wearing PPE between 4-8pm.

 

Normal visiting is expected to resume by the 20th of July.

 

These timelines are subject to change as per our conditions for unlocking, SHOULD we encounter any increase in COVID 19 cases.

 

As always, we wholeheartedly trust the advice as provided by our clinical teams at ERS who always have the best interests of our ERS residents in mind. 

 

 

Antibody testing

 

With regards to antibody testing, there was a question at a previous press conference which I have discussed with Dr Rawal in order to be able to provide an answer today.

 

We have sourced antibody tests through three industry leader suppliers – Abbott, Diasorin and Beckmann.

 

These are suppliers who we have excellent working relationships with, who supply reagents for nearly all our laboratory tests locally, and who notified us of their antibody tests over a month ago.

 

As a result, we were able to be listed preferentially for supplies of these tests.

 

In total, across the three suppliers we have ordered 35,000 tests for a whole population testing strategy and a further 20,000 from Abbott for cross border workers.

 

The tests need a proper blood test and are not the so-far unreliable finger prick tests.

 

We have not ordered Roche tests as we do not use Roche analyser machines within our laboratory.

 

Our tests are just as accurate as the Roche tests.

 

We have not confirmed a definite arrival date for these tests but we will announce this in due course when this information is available to us.

 

(The cost of our tests works out to be 5 Euros per test.)

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

As we now move into uncharted territory, we must take each step at a time and move slowly.

 

This phase is very hard for all of us as we all desperately want to try to regain our lives.

 

We must however look cautiously at other cities to see how things evolve in other places but especially we must look north to Spain and the UK as they are our closest neighbours in terms of movement and travel.

 

We have done very well, but we cannot let our guard down now.

 

As we slowly start to return to a life we are more used to we must consider our actions carefully so that we minimise our risk to ourselves, and in doing so, we also minimise the risk to our families and the community.

 

We must observe the advice given by Public Health by way of social distancing, avoiding large public gatherings, washing our hands and allowing each Phase of the planned unlocking process to take place at the right time.

 

We still have a way to go.

 

The good things that we have learned from this unpleasant experience we must now try to keep, the good practices that will help to keep us safe, fit and healthy.

 

We must also keep at the forefront of our minds that we are what we eat and we are how we move.   

 

The way we choose to live our lives is of paramount importance to our health and wellbeing.

 

When we draw back the curtains, will we wish to see our old life return, our previous normal, with traffic ridden roads, queues at 845 in the morning even on sunny days and polluted air?

 

Do we want to go back to an unsafe environment for those that walk, cycle or wish to do exercise?

 

Do we want to go back to that place where we feel unsafe each time we cross the road, with motorbikes whizzing by, motorbikes overtaking, undertaking, cars sounding horns in the rush to get somewhere, cars double parked, parked on pavements where families with prams need to step out onto the road to get past them, and polluted air?

 

Do we want to reverse the effect of that exercise that so many of us have been doing so well?

 

If that’s what we want, that is really easy to go back to, we only have to return to our cars and drive those 500m to get our child to school, eat unhealthily, stop exercising and simply get fatter, hoping that there will not be a return of COVID or even another virus.

 

What we have achieved so far would never have been possible in such a short period of time, ever!

 

People are walking, cycling with their children, exercising, feeling safe, feeling healthy, losing weight, getting fit.

 

It up to all of us, we need to decide.

 

COVID 19 has provided challenging times for cities throughout the world but there are a lot of opportunities and many cities are responding in ways unheard of in the past, opening the way for a fitter, healthier future.

 

There are many positive initiatives out there to read of, to learn from and to consider for ourselves.

 

For a small city, we have opportunities unimaginable.

 

It takes a lot of courage to take steps in the right direction, it takes conviction to try to achieve change and it also takes acceptance.

 

But, Change is Change and human nature does not adapt easily to change at first.

 

And that is a fact.

 

BUT many people appear happier to see these changes taking place in our lives and now is the time to try to make these changes stick.

 

It is our choice!

 

COVID seems to have given us a chance and so far, we have been let off very lightly with just 147 recorded cases compared to those images that have haunted us of people lined up on stretchers in corridors, people on ventilators, people really sick in other places.

 

Let us now be very careful, as we start to enjoy life once again because the effects of our actions today only manifest themselves in 10-14 days’ time.

 

This will make it very difficult to measure the effects and the consequences of our actions today.

 

Changing our lifestyle will make us a better, fitter community and the benefits will be huge.

 

I am excited for our future because I think that together we can make a massive difference to Gibraltar.

 

I think that COVID 19 can make us stronger and healthier and it can teach us to accept what we have.

 

In this way Gibraltar can become a better place, one that attracts people to us, especially tourists perhaps because we are a sensible society and a safe and greener place to visit.

 

We will do very well indeed if we set our minds to it.

 

Let’s keep safe, observe the advice, look after ourselves, keep fit, eat well and keep healthy.

 

Before I hand over to Minister Sacramento, I would like to give my thanks to India for her thank you card and her present of a lovely doll of that man in a suit with the beard that works with her Dad.

 

One thing is for sure.

 

If today is the last time you see me or Sam or any of us sitting here talking to you about COVID, then I am sure that we can safely say that we have all done well.

 

Finally, one last thank you to all my GHA, ERS and Care Agency Staff.

 

I am so very proud of you all.

 

Thank you.

 

I will now hand over Minister Sacramento.

 

 

 

Minister for Civil Contingencies Samantha Sacramento 

 

Good afternoon everyone, I hope that you are safe and well.

 

As we have just heard, he have only 2 positive cases of Covid19. We have to be thankful for that because that figure is low. We must however not forget that the virus continues to be among us and we must behave as such because otherwise our figures could change and they could increase.

 

As you know, the second phase of unlocking commences next week.  The lockdown regulations fall away on Wednesday which means that they will no longer continue to operate as from Thursday.

 

This however is not to say that the virus has gone and that we can return to normal.  It simply means that as a Government are not prohibiting you from leaving your home.  However, we are not encouraging it either and our advice to stay home remains.  At this stage it is now advice.

 

Going forward, we must manage how we live with this virus being among us, and we must do so with great care and caution.

 

The methodology to give effect to how we unlock from the lockdown must be a careful one.  We must still have precautions in place and unlocking will entail restrictions.  A lot of common sense will also be required, we should not let down our guard.

 

Work to give effect to the measures to enable the unlocking of the lockdown are well underway and the teams have spent long hours this week and have also worked today since very early this morning as we continue to formulate the rules, guidance and advice.  Always of course based on the advice given to us by the Director of Public Health.

 

In the coming days, we shall be publishing guidelines for the sectors so that they can resume within the parameters in a safe way.  Teams have been set up to ensure that we can give operational effect to the timeline, while ensuring that we do so safely. 

 

As you know, the answer to effectively unlocking the Rock will very much hinge on our test, track and trace strategy, we will continue the targeted swabbing of front line staff and thanks to the new public health lab we will be able to test up to 300 swabs a day with results in 4 hours.  Positive cases and their household will be asked to isolate for 10 days to minimise the risk of spreading the infection and the team at the Contact Tracing Bureau will work with them so as to reach out to the people that they may have been in contact with.

 

The Government’s use of its geographic information systems (GIS) has been a useful tool in some of the decision making process and will no doubt prove useful at the contact tracing stage.  This system is a tool that offers a way to communicate geographic data in a meaningful way through the use of interactive maps and infographics.  The GIS system and information dashboards record in near real time and can be an invaluable tool in responding to a crisis and predicting new outbreaks. 

 

In the coming weeks and months, we will continue to monitor and assess the longer term impacts of Covid19.  The GIS system will be very useful to assess areas and individuals at greatest risk through tools such as contact tracing and population modelling.  This is a tool that has been entirely developed internally and I would like to thank Dr Liesel Mesilio for her drive in tailor making this tool for the pandemic and all her teams to have worked in solidarity to make this possible in a short period of time.

 

Thank you also to the IT departments for being our backbone and enabling us to do what we have wanted to achieve, whether it has been replacing physical counters with virtual ones, enabling everyone to work remotely, setting up the apps and the GIS system or setting up brand new IT systems at the Nightingale Field Hospital and the new Public Health lab at the Gibraltar University, my thanks to Tyrone Manasco and Aaron Asquez the heads of the Government ITLD and GHA IT respectively who have led these teams.

 

This process has also shown us innovative ways of working, it has brought out the best in the public sector and these better working environments will continue beyond the crisis, we will develop these as we map out the plans as part of the restart and recover task force.

 

The reason why we have fared well during this pandemic is very much down to you for following the rules.

 

Thankfully, due a combination of our early preparedness for this and for our community’s cooperation, we have not found ourselves in the same situation that other countries around the world do.  This is down to each and everyone of us coming together as community.

 

This being my last press briefing, I would very much like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has worked throughout the lockdown to enable us to get through this, whether working on the front line as a medical professional or a cleaner, a police officer, or people who have worked in offices to continue services or those who have continued to work in supermarkets. Equally essential to this equation are those who have stayed home throughout this time, as this has been just as important.  Thank you.

 

There are of course too many people to thank individually, I will highlight those who have worked with me directly through the Office of Civil Contingencies.

 

To everyone in the GHA and hospital staff and the staff at the Care Agency who have worked so tremendously hard under the superb leadership of my good friend Minister Paul Balban who has been leading in most stupendous way it has been a pleasure to work together so closely, I must thank everyone for the way that they have prepared for the worst.  A special mention must also go to everyone at Mount Alvernia and the other ERS facilities, the measures that have been put in place so early on were clearly the right ones.

 

This is in no small measure down to Susan Vallejo whose formidable leadership, professionalism and tenacity has ensured that her teams have looked after their residents, such very precious people, in the best way possible, they truly are an example to the world, and I sincerely hope that their work is analysed and published in a medical journal as many could learn a lot from what they have done.  Thank you.

 

During this time the office of civil contingencies has set up a Public Information Call Centre and response teams to ensure that no one has been left out during these difficult times.

 

Central to our operations has been the work of our Public Information Call Centre which has played a key role in establishing a direct interface with our community. Our call operators have run a 24/7 service and have dealt with over 4,600 calls.

 

The Volunteer Group which has so ably been managed by Lizanne Peralta and by David King before her, has dealt with over 1300 requests and has supported the more vulnerable members of our community with shopping, medicines, important essentials and the disposal of their domestic waste. I am especially grateful to the army of 1155 volunteers who have registered with us and given so much of their personal time to help those most in need.  I sincerely hope that those who have come forward to give up of their time will consider continuing to volunteer to help vulnerable people in future, I have no doubt that they will.

 

Equally, the Response Teams under Dean Castrey have worked hand-in-glove with the Care Agency to ensure that 130 vulnerable families have been provided with everything that they need including weekly food packs and importantly, checking up on them on a regular basis. I have been hugely touched to read some of the letters and messages of gratitude that have been sent to our response teams as this has really shown the unmeasurable impact that the actions of our people have had on the elderly during their time of need. Only yesterday, I read a message from a 91-year old who just wanted to tell the whole world what wonderful work the response teams were doing and that they had given him the best birthday present.

 

I must of course thank the Office of Civil Contingencies.  A team who has worked diligently, tirelessly and incredibly methodically to ensure a coordinated calm throughout these last 2 months, long days and most weekends, to make sure that everything was ready and this was undertaken with military precision.  They will of course continue to play an equally crucial role as we move forward to safely unlock the rock

I would like to thank the team

Ernest Danino

Brian Brooks

Laura Berridge and

Wayne Barton

All of whom work under the leadership of the Civil Contingencies Coordinator Ivor Lopez, thank you all for everything.

 

Thanks everyone for all your rainbows, for your kind words, for your efforts and for looking after each other.

 

This experience that we have had to endure has most certainly also brought out the best in all of us, from the donations and people stepping up to volunteer, to people looking out for and helping neighbours, let’s ensure that this continues to be the new normal too.

 

From the very first sign of this threat, as a Government we took every available step to protect all who call Gibraltar their home and put all our resources to steer our Rock through this global pandemic with the least possible damage and loss of lives.  We succeeded in the suppression stage.  As we now come out of this lock down, please may I remind everyone that the virus continues among us, the extent of what happens next is down to all of us and how we behave.   

 

When you are outdoors the risk of catching the virus remains.  We can mitigate the risk by our behaviours, by frequently washing our hands, by ensuring social distancing, and by following public health advice, remember always that the more we move, the more that we move the virus.

 

Home is still the safest place to be.

 

Thank you for taking the time to join us in these information briefings, thanks to GBC our public services broadcaster and our press office who have been here daily and to all journalists for their questions.

 

I now hand over for any press questions.

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