Chief Minister’s Statement - Friday 31st July Press Conference

Below follows the Chief Minister's statement from this morning’s press conference:

Good morning


Welcome to this morning’s press conference at No6 Convent Place.


As you will recall, on Monday, I told you that the Government was considering not moving further in our plan to UNLOCK THE ROCK by tomorrow, the 1st of August.


I told you that we wanted to observe the progress of infections in our community and around us in this week in order to make the best and the best-informed decision we could in our common interest as a people.


Today, we can do that with the benefit of having taken a total of 21,244 swabs, since we started testing.


We have pending only 9 results. 


21,021 have been returned as negative. 


Confirmed cases now total 187 since we started testing. 


Active cases in Gibraltar today are 6 


4 are residents of Gibraltar and 2 are visitors.


In the past week the total number of cases of COVID-19 in the world has jumped, in just five days, from 15.7m on Monday to 17.3m today.


In the period from Monday to today, the number of deaths has increased from 640,000 to 673,000.


That is as if the whole of the population of Gibraltar had died in the period from Monday to Friday. 


We are far from out of the woods.


Therefore, in view of the deteriorating situation across the Continent and across the planet, it makes perfect sense to be cautious.


On public health advice, we will remain in PHASE 6. 


Additionally, we will not make any changes to relax PHASE 6 at all.


Because, at least for the moment, the advice is that we must remain at PHASE 6 without modifications that would relax the conditions applicable in this phase. 


Following discussions with the Director of Public Health, the firm advice is that there should not be any relaxation whatsoever of the current arrangements. 


There is nothing that I would have liked more than to tell Gibraltar today that we could move to unlocking.


But I hope that taking firm action at this time will  prevent further restrictions having to be imposed in the future.


I understand how hard this will be for everyone.


But it will not be lost on us that the many countries that have unlocked have had to revert to some sort of lockdown because of the rise in numbers. 


That is precisely what we want to avoid here.  


We therefore, do not believe it is prudent to loosen restrictions any further at this stage.


All restrictions will remain as at present.


There will be no increase in the numbers of people who can gather together.


The Constitutional right of freedom of assembly will continue to be curtailed and remain at 20.


We want to prevent a rise in numbers and we want to avoid an increase in restrictions as a result. 


We took a bold decision to introduce lockdown in March. It was this firm action that ensured that we were prepared for a surge and that in the end, saved lives.  


While there is nothing that I would want to resist more than to have to restrict anyone’s liberty, the same decisive action is needed now.


This means that we need to be prepared to make small sacrifices for our long-term benefit. 


There is also a serious risk of a spike at the moment because of holiday and other travel movements. 


Importantly also, the United Kingdom, Spain and Morocco, the countries that we most interact with, are seeing positive cases on the rise. 


Morocco has seen an increase of 1,046 cases in the last 24 hours alone. 


Yesterday’s new positive case in Gibraltar was unreported to us for some days. 


The Contact Tracing Bureau have so far identified 45 contacts arising from it.

So please do not think that this is over by any stretch of the imagination and that we can all relax.


We cannot. 


I envisage that the work we have done to date will permit us to heighten controls and restrictions in a way that will not require us to lock down again.


But similarly, we will not be able to totally unlock. 


My key message to all of you today is to please be careful.


The virus is back in our community.

We are starting to see community transmission again.


So you need to be careful in Gibraltar now.


Not just if you are in Spain or if you are travelling to the United Kingdom.


The virus is here again, moving between us.


So we must take extra care.


Tonight, if you are out enjoying yourselves, do not be irresponsible. 


Be careful.


Wherever you are, you must be careful now and observe the rules of social distancing, and hand and respiratory hygiene.


It has been reported to us that some people who have tested positive because of symptoms, had delayed in reporting their symptoms and being swabbed.  


This is dangerous because it means that they were infectious during the time that they were positive, without knowing it, and may in this period have infected others who may have come into contact with them.  


It is therefore absolutely imperative, in order to protect each other, that anyone who thinks that they may have any symptoms of COVID-19, self isolate immediately and contact 111 for advice. 


We also understand that people who suspect that they may be positive or who have been contacted by the Contact Tracing Bureau are attending the mobile swabbing stations to verify whether they are positive or not.  


This is not the proper procedure.


Such individuals must ensure that they self-isolate immediately.


Not doing so unintentionally puts others at risk. 


The data in Spain suggest spread caused by nightclubs, parties and family gatherings.


It is a younger demographic that is being principally affected this time around. 


So I have an important message for our young people.


An important message for all those who may want to be out and about socialising.


Please be careful both here and when you cross the border to Spain to socialise.


We had been considering an increase of the restrictions on gatherings and the numbers that can sit together in restaurants.


We are advised however, not to make any changes in Gibraltar and we will not do so.


Another part of our strategy, as you know, is to ensure we are testing, testing and testing. 


At the moment, the University Public Health laboratory is undertaking an average of 350 tests daily.  


The aim is to increase it to 500 tests a day.  


This testing will tell us how prevalent the virus is among those who do not show symptoms. 


This high volume of testing is one of the most important ways of keeping us safe.

We are ranked as one of the countries that undertakes highest number of tests in the world. 


We will move to ensure that there is even more testing being carried out in the GHA in particular. 


We are concerned that the numbers of staff tests there is not as high as it should be. 


The high number of tests per capita, coupled with our contact tracing facility is what is enabling us to enjoy the freedoms that we have. 


I cannot stress enough the importance of our community downloading the contact tracing app.  


So far the app has been downloaded to 15,000 devices.  


If you have not downloaded it yet, please do so.

The app gives the Government absolutely no data whatsoever about you.


It will give you data about your exposure to anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.  


The app is therefore for your own safety as it will alert you if you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive and you can get medical advice as soon as you receive the alert. 


I cannot emphasise enough how dangerous this virus continues to be.  


We have seen this all over the world.  


Gibraltar so far has done very well and has been very protected.  


This is in large part because as a community we stuck together and followed the rules. 


Precisely because we have done so well, people can be forgiven for thinking that this is over.  


It is not, and I ask that everyone should continue to follow the rules and the public health advice. 


While we all know that the elderly are the most vulnerable to this virus, it is the young who can pose the greatest risk of them catching it inadvertently. 


We must be mindful of this at all times and we must be mindful of exercising social responsibility. 


Hard as this is for our parents and grandparents, we have to demonstrate extra caution with them and remember that social commitments cannot be more important than protecting lives. 


We will continue to protect our most precious and most vulnerable.  


Golden hour and silver time arrangements will continue at Europa Pool and the Bathing Pavillions.  


Given the low number of people who are using Commonwealth Park in the last few weeks, we are going to reduce for now the time during which we offer this safe space to Golden hour and silver time users from 10am to 11am. 


Unfortunately, as time has passed, and especially because of the relatively low numbers of positive cases in our community, we have also seen people become naturally more complacent. 


There is less hand sanitising in shops, and the wearing of masks where it is compulsory to do so by permit, is also  becoming lax. 


We are not at a stage where the wearing of masks or face coverings in public places is mandatory, however, it is already mandatory that masks be worn in certain circumstances, such as on public transport and in restaurants.  


We are seeing that these are not always being observed and therefore the Minister for Civil Contingencies, on the advice of the Director of Public Health, will today introduce Regulations for the mandatory wearing of face coverings in certain confined spaces; on public transport, at hairdressers and beauticians, in restaurants including terraces, and for staff working in shops.  


A failure to comply with these regulations will be supported by a fixed penalty notice, in other words an on the spot fine of £100. 


The Minister for Civil Contingencies has led on clearing these measures also with the Leader of the Opposition today. 


We continue to recommend the use of masks inside establishments if the rules of social distancing cannot be observed.


Additionally, we do not discard having to extend compulsory mask use in the near future. 


We have reports that restaurants are finding it difficult to ensure that their customers can observe social distancing, especially later in the evening.  


It is for this reason, and upon the advice  of the Royal Gibraltar Police, that in order that the 2am curfew be observed, establishments will be required to take last orders by 1.30am. 


Let me move on to other aspects now.


A little bit of good news.


At a teleconference with Public Health England yesterday, a spokesman for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office confirmed to a question from Gibraltar's Director for Public Health, Dr Sohail Bhatti, that United Kingdom overseas territories, which includes Gibraltar, would be able to access COVID-19 vaccine stocks that were being procured by the NHS. 


Details are being worked out.


But also let us give ourselves the reality check that there is, as yet, no confirmed vaccine.


If it comes, and if it is in one of the stocks secured by the United Kingdom, we will have access to it.


When we locked down, we took the decision to close all public counters in order to ensure social distancing, and particularly to protect people who are over 70 who use such counters.  


During this time, services were provided in alternative ways. This showed us the potential of different ways of working which can be as effective.  


This has not been without its teething problems. 


I will not pretend that this has all been perfect.


During this time we have worked hard to provide digital alternatives for physicals counters in order to reduce the need for people to attend in person.  


We understand that there will of course be circumstances where individuals need to attend in person, either because of the nature of the task or because the person may not understand the digital format, and we will always provide for such individuals.  


I would like to say thank you at this point for the work that has been undertaken by all Public Servants in assisting the members the public during this time and also the Citizen’s Advice Bureau who have also been assisting the public in the completion of forms. 


All these services will be fine tuned and progressed as Task Force Restart and Recover progresses. 


We aspire to be able to progress to entirely cashless services.  


Where the public derives payments from the Government, we will provide for those who may not hold a bank account by providing pre paid cards which will be loaded with the necessary payments.  


We are about to pilot the use of prepaid cards in the public sector in the Department of Social Security.  


We have been encouraging recipients of social security benefits to provide the Department with bank details or to set up a bank account if they did not have one. 


There are, however, some who still do not have a bank account or have not been able to set up alternative arrangements.

For those who do not have access to a bank account, we will be introducing a process of payment through a top-up card. 


Arrangements have already been made with a provider of the cards and these will now be introduced.

The top-up card will be introduced first in the Department of Social Security and will then be rolled out to any other Government department where a payment has to be made.

The DSS-issued Personal Cash Account Card will be replaced with a top-up card to which all payments of benefits or pension will be made. 


The card can be used at shops, merchants, cash machines or to make online payments in the same way as any credit or debit card. 


The balance and transaction history can also be viewed online. 


Those who are issued with a card will be provided with login details.

We believe that this is the safest method for those entitled to benefits or pension payments who do not have a bank account to receive their payments.


And let us be clear. We are not keeping counters closed to be a nuisance to you.


We are keeping counters closed to keep you safe. 


So, in conclusion, the ROCK WILL NOT UNLOCK tomorrow.


We will not increase the number of persons who can gather at any one time.


Those that operate businesses such as gyms and restaurants under a permit, will continue to require such a permit to operate. 


We will legislate to require the use of masks in the same places where they are presently advised or required under a permit.


We will not legislate, at this stage, for the general use of masks, but that may come in some weeks. 


Last orders in any catering establishment will be 1.30am as from today.


I anticipate that we will move to increase our posture in response to the prevalence of the virus to a MAJOR INCIDENT under the Civil Contingencies Act, once again, in the next six weeks.  


At the moment, I believe we will be at that posture by mid-September.


We are better prepared now.


We understand the virus better.


But there is still no vaccine.


There is still no cure.


My dear friends, at this time when we expect to be able to relax and enjoy the warmth of summer, we must this year stay on alert.

We must stay conscious that there is once again community transmission of COVID-19 in Gibraltar.


We must stay at PHASE 6 to protect each other, our loved ones and our nation. 


Please reflect that it is better to lose a summer in your life than to lose your life for a summer. 


Let me say that again and let it sink in. 


It is better to lose a summer in your life than to lose your life for a summer.


COVID-19 is very much in the community again. 


Be responsible.


Stay safe and keep others safe too, especially your loved ones.


Do not become an unwitting vessel for the transmission of this virus. 


There will not be a Covid press conference on Monday. We will be keeping you and the Press informed during the month of August as necessary, and we will host such further press conferences as may be required and will be announced ahead of us having to appear before you.  


Thank you for being with us this morning, I will now take questions from the media who are here with us at No6 Convent Place.