CM’s PRESS CONFERENCE

11th May 2020

Good afternoon and welcome to No6 Convent Place for this Government information briefing.

Today, on the 11th May the total number of persons diagnosed as being actively infected with COVID-19 is 4.

That is up just one over the past three days.

You will also see we have greatly increased testing.

Because the number of tests carried out is now 4,155, which represents 13% of the population.

The results pending are 345.

To date, we have had a total of 147 cases since mid-February and of those 143 are now recovered.

Today, once again, there are no COVID patients in our hospital wards or in ICU.

Our Nightingale facility remains a virginal demonstration of this community’s success in warding off at least the first wave of COVID-19.

I must also tell you that the swabbing programmes in ERS identified one carer who was asymptomatic as one of the four now active cases.

As a result, the whole floor where that person worked at ERS was swabbed.

All swabs came back negative.

A further test will be carried out at the end of the week on all residents again just out of an abundance of caution.

It is in that context that the Government has today approved the final iteration of our UNLOCK THE ROCK strategy.

We have already embarked on Phase 1 of the strategy, as we announced almost two weeks ago now.

Next week, we will start Phase 2.

I want to be clear with you though:

Our message will not change.

We will continue to advise that Staying at Home is the best way to stay safe.

But we will change our posture.

With a small number of cases and an increased ability to test and track exposure to the virus, we will be moving from a situation where we restrict movement by compulsion to a situation where we are more targeted in the restrictions we impose.

Because we want to lift as many restrictions on movement as possible as soon as we are able to do so safely.

So in this first phase, 12 days in since we started to relax matters, we are not seeing yet any exponential growth in infections.

And therefore, we are going to set out in our strategy document that we are on track to enter Phase 2 in the week of the 18th May.

On the 21st of May, we will see a further loosening of the restrictions on personal movement both for the over-70sand the under-70-year-olds.

But we will not change our advice – even if we change our laws.

Our advice will still be to STAY AT HOME.

And that advice will be the same for everyone but it will be particularly emphasised for our over-70s.

It will be similarly over-emphasised for those in our community who are immunosuppressed.

And indeed, for those who are obese and have a BMI of over 30.

Those are the persons who – according to the emerging data – the virus is killing most aggressively.

And all of that advice and change of posture will be captured in this document, our Unlock the Rock document.

I want to thank Ministers for their input into this work.

Each Department has provided careful and detailed input into the preparation of this route map.

Ministers and their teams have worked very diligently indeed to make this as complete a document as possible.

Because we have wanted to give as much detail as possible for people to start planning in future for their personal lives, their working lives and of course, the operation of businesses that remain closed for now.

I have also shared the document with the Leader of the Opposition as a draft.

He has shared it with his Shadow Cabinet with my consent.

Having seen the early embargoed document, they have provided significant feedback for which we are grateful.

Incorporating their views will assist in making a clearer document.

But I want to be clear of course that at this stage everything is very, very fluid, even now.

So we may have to change the running order of things set out in the document.

Because preparing this document for the specific circumstances of Gibraltar has been devilishly complicated.

And of course dealing with the virus is not an exact science by any means.

So we may have to stop progress in respect of the phases envisaged if the rate of infections picks up again.

Or we may be able to accelerate if there is cure identified earlier than anticipated.

What I do want to say is that we cannot lose track of where we were the day we announced our first restrictions.

We were being warned about the potential of tens of thousands of infections in Gibraltar.

And we were being advised about the need to prepare for hundreds of deaths in a period of weeks or months.

That would have been unbearable for our community.

That is what I reflect in my foreword to this document.

I remind the community that it was for that reason that we locked down in what has been a light version of the lockdowns we have subsequently seen elsewhere.

That is what is almost making unlocking harder.

Because we are already at the stage, in which other nations will not be for some time.

Turning now to the document itself, there is also a detailed introduction by the Director of Public Health.

Dr Bhatti has been a leading voice of course during the course of this public health emergency.

He will be joining me tomorrow as we publish the document at 4pm.

We importantly then go through the state of the law and how it has developed.

And then we detail the approach to unlocking.

This details how we have reached R0 and how we will approach anti-body testing going forward.

Importantly we then set out what the new rules of social distancing require, what the new rules of respiratory hygiene provide for and what the lifelong rules of personal hygiene require some of which you might have thought nobody needed reminding of.

The document emphasises how important these basic issues are going to be, going forward.

The next part of the document is the phased unlocking.

That goes through the phases in detail.

You are already aware of what phase 1 provided for, as we are in it already.

Phase 2 will start on the 18th May.

On that date, we will start to see a return of some museums, libraries and exhibitions.

Phase 2 will also provide for the lifting of laws against free movement.

This will take effect from the 21st of this month if things are progressing well and we see no increases in infection rates.

So from that date, we expect that we move away from the law restricting free movement but with two key caveats.

Firstly, our advice will continue to be that it is safer to stay at home.

We expect to be able to change our legal posture but not our advice.

And secondly, we will continue to have rules about large gatherings.

So the law will still restrict the Constitutional freedom of association.

Importantly, we will start to see more activity in our health services also, with a return to screening etc.

We also expect commercial gyms to be able to re-open in this phase but subject to tight controls.

We will see a return to Parliamentary activity in Phase 2, with a meeting of Parliament on the 28th May of which I have given notice today.

At this time we will also see a return of construction works within dwellings, also subject to permits and strict rules of social distancing and the wearing of masks.

Education will also start a phased return as already highlighted by Minister Gilbert Licudi and as agreed with the teachers’ union.

Then Phase 3 will commence on the 1st of June.

This is the phase in which we expect to see a return of religious worship, but subject to very strict distancing controls.

This will also provide for a the return of public transport.

Additionally, this will be the beginning of the closure of Chatham Counterguard and the part closure of Line Wall Road.

At the same time, we will see the re-start of Public Transport with new arrangements where relevant.

Some theatrical, musical and dance performances will be permitted without a live audience for filming and broadcast purposes.

Importantly, restaurants will be able to re-open with restrictions of up to 50% in terms of occupancy.

Public Health permits will be required for the opening of restaurants.

Finally, in phase 4, from the 16th June, we will be looking to re-open Bars and Cafeterias subject to Public Health permits.

We also expect to open the Bathing Season in mid-June.

And I want to be clear; our ambition will be to see a normal bathing season, with normal beach going.

We do not want to see any restrictions on our ability to attend beaches.

But this will require common sense from the public.

You will have to pitch your tents further away from each other than we are used to.

So we will not be able to crowd around the shore and the best spots as we each like to do.

But this will be essential.

We have to reserve of course the right to impose restrictions if the infection rate of COVID-19 increases, but we are hoping of course, it will not.

We do not want to see a restricted Bathing Season.

What we will be working to do is offer the over-70s who wish – that is to say, not by compulsion – those who wish, areas which will be reserved for them exclusively.

We are considering making Europa Pool and the Bathing Pavilion at GASA exclusively available to our elderly citizens so they can bathe without mixing with younger members of the community.

The next two phases, Phase 5 and Phase 6 are essentially review phases for restaurants, bars, cafeterias and gyms. Those that will still have restrictions in place and will see a further loosening of those restrictions over those phases.

If necessary, we will review any beach-going restrictions that may be in place.

And thereafter, assuming everything has gone well, which is a big assumption, then we will move to ROCK UNLOCKED – PHASE NEW NORMAL as we head into the autumn.

That will be on 1st August.

That is also a moment when we will have to be most alert to how things may progress.

It will be in that stage, in ROCK UNLOCKED that attendance at funerals and weddings may then be more normal – but there may still be a maximum number of people prescribed for attendance.

Our document then goes on to provide advice on daily life and advice on work life and business life in some greater detail.

Then there is also detail on access to Gibraltar by land, sea and air.

We are reserving our position on quarantine etc as these matters work on a reciprocal basis obviously.

And we are already talking to the United Kingdom and to Spain on such relevant mobility issues.

There will be temperature scanning as well as the potential for field tests of sorts on departure and on arrival from Gibraltar Airport.

But these things are still in development and we are therefore identifying these issues but not yet able to fix our views entirely.

We then go into issues about how the public sector will deal with matters in the future.

And in particular, we are keen to never go back to some practices which unions and government take the view are not efficient and which we want to move on from.

This will help us in digitisation and in leaving behind old style counters.

Our detailed document then goes through some specific public sector matters.

Education is dealt with in detail as are health and justice.

Additionally, we will detail the work done on when sports can return and how each sport can return.

You will then see how we deal with promoting self-diagnosis, and encouraging this, as well as how we will deal with a massive testing programme that we are going to roll out.

All of this will also, of course, will require aggressive contact tracing and that is also dealt with in detail in our document so that people understand what we are proposing in this respect and how we propose to address the issues that arise.

The final cog in the wheel will of course be isolation. And that is what we address in our final substantive chapter.

Finally, the document pulls together some myth busters from the World Health Organisation.

And so you may ask yourselves, why are we not publishing the document today?

Well for two reasons.

The first is that we are making final adjustments after the decisions of the Cabinet today to lift the laws on restricting free movement from the 21st May whilst maintaining restrictions on the freedom of association and gatherings.

I have discussed and agreed these matters with the Leader of the Opposition today also.

So we have to make those changes to the document.

They are in the general public’s interests and I have been very true to my oath to you all to guard against any unnecessary restriction on your civil liberties for a moment longer than is necessary even though as a result we have had to change the document that we were envisaging.

And the second reason that we are not publishing today, is that the United Kingdom has delayed the publication of its own document until later today and we need to keep an eye on that as we publish our own document.

So what is the headline of today for the Government today.

For us, it is the hope to be able to move away from laws restricting your freedom of movement from late next week.

The next headline is that we will be linking the rules of the over-70s to the rules for the under-70s also as from the 21st of May.

This will be detailed more clearly in the timeline to be contained in this document.

But another headline for us is that whilst we will move from compulsion to advice, we will do so without changing our advice.

Our advice will remain STAY AT HOME for now.

Whether you are over or under 70.

And finally, everything I have referred to is based on us all observing the rules of social distancing.

And also with this CAVEAT:

EVERYTHING is constantly changing and our phases may have to change, but we are hoping to give you as much clarity as possible with our unlocking document.

And so, before I end this afternoon, it is worth noting that we have now offered over 50 information briefings of press conferences since we started lockdown.

I want to thank the media for their work in providing questions during these sessions to scrutinise the work we are doing.

In particular, I want to thank GBC for offering this live feed on the national broadcaster every day.

And I want to thank every single one of the journalists who have provided questions, either remotely or in person, for our sessions.

We expect to change the nature of these events as we move into Phase 2 next week.

And so now, I turn to their questions once again: