Minister for Education Gilbert Licudi
Good afternoon and welcome to the Government’s daily briefing on Covid 19.
I am joined today by my colleague Vijay Daryanani, the Minister for Business, Tourism and Transport.
Today is our 60th daily briefing the first one having taken place on 17 March.
Since that time, all ministers have appeared before you as well as the Director of Public Health, Dr Bhatti, representatives of the GHA and elderly residential services, in particular the acting medical director Dr Rawal, the Commissioner of Police and the Civil Contingencies coordinator.
Our aim throughout has been to be totally transparent and to keep you fully informed of Government’s plans as well as with the Covid situation from a public health, GHA, policing and civil contingencies perspective.
Crucially, this hasn’t just been about telling you what you can and cannot do but also about giving you advice about what you should do, about how Covid has changed our lives and about how our behaviour has needed to change during the current crisis but also how we interact with each other in the future.
We have imposed a lockdown and interfered with your rights and liberties.
We have not done that lightly.
It has all been for the protection of our citizens, to prevent the GHA being overwhelmed and, ultimately, to save lives.
We have managed to keep the infection rates in Gibraltar very low and have not had a single death.
That is the way we must keep it.
As we move towards the different phases of unlocking and the relaxation of measures, we must continue to be on our guard.
We must constantly remember that the virus is still out there, waiting to pounce if we give it the opportunity of doing so.
Let us not give this deadly virus that opportunity.
Let us continue to act as responsibly as we have done until now but albeit in a new and different kind of normality.
Today, I will give you some further details of our plans to reopen schools.
I will, however, first give you today’s Covid figures.
Total swabs taken: 5156
Results received: 4990
Results pending: 166
These results include the frontline targeted and systematic sampling programme – a crucial element of our strategy going forward.
In the last 24 hours, there were 31 attendances to A&E.
Of these, 3 had Covid symptoms and all 3 were swabbed.
There were no admissions to the Covid CCU and two admissions to John Ward.
Of these two, one has already had a negative swab result and the other is pending.
These figures show that we continue to be in a good position.
We have only 2 active cases.
Both are at home and are well.
We continue to have 147 confirmed cases.
We had 146 confirmed cases on 10 May so we have had an increase of just one confirmed case in a week.
All of this is very good news indeed.
But as my colleagues have repeatedly said, so long as there is any positive case out there we must continue to take measures to protect ourselves.
On 12 May, we published the Government’s route map for easing restrictions.
That route map includes the Education roadmap for a partial and limited reopening of schools for the remainder of this term.
The Education roadmap sets out two steps, one on 26 May and the other on 16 June.
We have said on a number of occasions and I would like to repeat that the Education roadmap, as, indeed, the Government’s route map as a whole, is a fluid document which is liable to change if the circumstances relating to the spread of infection of the virus which causes Covid-19 change and the conditions for unlocking set out in the Government’s route map are no longer satisfied.
As we move to the implementation of the Education roadmap and the partial and limited reopening of schools, our primary consideration is the safety and well-being of children and staff.
The Government’s route map sets out six phases for unlocking. 26 May (Education Step 1) falls between phases 2 and 3 with 16 June (Education Step 2) being the start of phase 4.
Gibraltar has succeeded in reducing the rate of infection of the Covid-19 virus.
The reproductive (R) rate is now close to 0.
There are, as I have said, only 2 active confirmed cases of the virus.
Condition 1 for unlocking as set out in the Government’s route map is that the total number of confirmed cases is rising at a pace of 7 or less new cases per day.
Gibraltar has seen an overall rise in 6 new confirmed cases in the past 21 days.
There is now in place an ongoing systematic mass testing programme.
The public health laboratory at the University of Gibraltar – which I visited this week – will shortly be capable of processing 300 tests per day.
That is approximately 1% of the population each day.
To put that into context, if the UK swabbed 1% of its population each day, that would be 650,000 tests.
Our mass testing programme is accompanied by aggressive contact tracing and isolation whenever a new positive case is confirmed.
Overall, around 16% of the population have been tested.
2,149 frontline staff have been tested as part of the targeted and systematic sampling programme.
This includes the testing of 385 teachers, all of whom have tested negative with just 1 result pending.
We currently do not have a single active confirmed case in staff engaged by the Department of Education.
Of the 147 confirmed cases, only 8 have involved persons aged 19 or under.
There is currently not a single active case in that category.
These figures can, of course, change.
However, the current risk assessment and advice by the Director of Public Health is that the risk of infection in giving effect to the Education roadmap is very low.
The Director of Public Health therefore advises that the Education roadmap can be implemented safely.
There will, of course, be a number of prudent mitigating measures also given effect including staggered entry and dismissal from schools, staggered breaks, small group sizes and regular hand hygiene routines.
Most schools in Gibraltar closed on 24 March 2020.
Since then, we have maintained childcare supervision facilities at Notre Dame, St Anne’s and Westside.
In addition, St Martin’s has been open.
We have also operated home learning platforms for primary and secondary students with children from St Martin’s also having access to home learning.
All schools will now reopen on 26 May.
Year 2 children are expected to attend their Lower Primary schools and Year 6 children are expected to attend their Upper Primary schools.
The rationale for the selection of year groups is outlined in the Education roadmap.
Years 2 and 6 will be moving to a new school in September and important transition work is always completed with these pupils during this term.
It is critical to do some of this work with these children in order to prepare them for the transition to their new school; hence our decision to bring these 2 year groups back to school first.
With regard to the secondary sector, we have been monitoring announcements in the UK relating to their intended pathway for secondary schools.
In particular, we have been monitoring any decisions made in regard to the year groups who find themselves in the middle of examination courses.
It will be important for us to make sure any decision we make does not place our students in a position which disadvantages them in relation to their UK peers.
In the road map, we did not specify which year group will start first at secondary but, in line with our approach in all other mainstream schools, we committed to there being one year group attending Bayside, Westside and the College.
After careful consideration, we have decided that Year 10 students will be returning to school on the 26th May.
Their return will be managed carefully, as indeed will the return of Year 2 and Year 6 pupils, with each year group being divided in half and being given specific time slots within which to attend.
Parents of children in Year 2, Year 6 and Year 10 will be advised of the specific times relevant to each individual in due course via the schools’ own platforms.
We also feel that it is important to give all Year 12 students some contact with their teachers before the summer break.
Year 12, will, therefore return to school before the end of this term.
The Department of Education is working hard with the teachers’ Union in order to finalise plans for Year 12.
We will share the details of these plans as soon as possible.
As from Tuesday 26th May, any child who needs to access the childcare supervision service will be able to do so at their usual school, in other words the school that they are enrolled in.
It is important for all parents who will be requiring access to the childcare supervision service to note that they must fill in the Department of Education’s form by Thursday of the week before.
This form can be filled in via the Department of Education’s website at www.education.gov.gi.
It is critical for the team at the Department of Education to have accurate numbers of the children who will be accessing the childcare facilities the following week so that they can ensure that the necessary social distancing and staffing measures can be put in place in a safe manner.
If parents do not submit a form by the deadline, we will not be able to guarantee supervision for your child.
Parents of Year 2 and Year 6 children should note that, should they need to, their children can be registered for the childcare supervision facility in addition to their 2 hour partial return to school.
These parents should also fill in a form to ensure that their needs are catered for.
Home learning will continue for children of year groups not returning to school and for those in year groups returning to school who are unable to attend for medical reasons.
In the next few days we will be publishing a document providing guidance on the reopening of schools.
The guidance, which will be available on the education website, will include details on the inspection of premises, on steps being taken to minimize the risks of the Covid virus spreading, it will provide guidelines for teachers, staff and parents and will answer key questions which you may have.
Finally, I want to acknowledge the work done by my team at Education, led by Jackie Mason and Keri Scott, the administrative staff and the teachers and staff in all the schools who all stepped up to the mark in a remarkable way in order to continue to provide an education service to all children in testing conditions as well as providing facilities for those children of workers who were not able to stay at home and whose children needed to be supervised.
I also want to pay a special tribute to all those who have been involved in the production in the schools with 3D printers and other resources of over 4,000 visors, 1,000 ear savers, 500 door hooks and hundreds of scrub bags and scrub hats.
That is an incredible achievement.
All of these items were delivered to the GHA for use at St Bernard’s, Mount Alvernia, Ocean Views, Hillside and the Rooke Covid testing site.
Thank you to all of you who made this possible.
Today is the penultimate Covid daily briefing.
The last one will be tomorrow with the Chief Minister and he will give details of progress to the new unlocking phase and on future press conferences.
This is of course my last appearance at these daily briefings and I would like to take the opportunity of thanking all the staff at the various departments and authorities that I have ministerial responsibility for including Education, Employment, Port and Maritime Services, the Fire and Rescue Services and the Utilities not just for keeping things going but for their dedication and incredibly hard work during these difficult times
A few weeks ago I spoke of the rainbow of hope which was painted as a mural by the children of St Joseph’s on the last day before the school closed.
I spoke of that being a message of hope, and indeed expectation, of a reopening of St Joseph’s and, of course, of every school.
That is going to happen on 26 May.
I also said it was a message of hope in a future where we will all have learnt lessons from this – lessons about how we can do things differently, how we can be more efficient and how we all have a part to play in the collective well-being.
That is, indeed, the big lesson that we all have to take from this.
Let us now move forward as we strive not just to rebuild our lives but to regenerate and reinvigorate our Gibraltar for ourselves and for future generations.