Welcome, once again, to an information press conference from No6 Convent Place.
I am very sorry to have to report to you today an additional death from COVID-19.
The death has arisen in a male in the age 60 to 65 group.
The death is reported as being FROM COVID.
My condolences and the condolences of the whole Government and the People of Gibraltar to the family of the deceased.
This sad death brings the total number of persons who have died as a result of this disease in Gibraltar to 84.
53 of these deaths have been in our Elderly Residential Services .
74 of the total deaths are registered as being FROM COVID.
And 10 are registered as deaths WITH COVID.
The deaths have occurred predominantly in this calendar year, with 77 of these deaths reported since the 1st of January.
We are seeing what we hope will be the last spate of deaths.
But I have to be honest with you all and tell you that I expect that we shall continue to see at least a handful of further such deaths.
Overnight, the numbers of persons infected with COVID- 19 in our community has increased by 9 of which 6 are residents and 3 are not.
The R rate REMAINS below 0.5.
This result is extrapolated from 1,119 tests carried out yesterday.
We have now carried out a remarkable 171,263 tests as at last night.
That gives you a feel for the pressure our equally remarkable laboratory staff have worked under, in particular in the months of December and January.
Today, the total number of active cases of COVID-19 in Gibraltar is down to 78.
That is six less than yesterday.
Since we identified patient zero in Gibraltar in February of last year, we have had a total 4,212 cases of COVID cases in Gibraltar.
516 of these have been in non-residents.
In respect of vaccinations, the total number of doses administered as midnight last night was 23,103.
Of these, 15,436 were first doses.
7,667 were second doses
Everyone in an ‘at risk’ group has now had or been offered a second dose.
Everyone over the age of 70 has now had or been offered a second dose.
Everyone in our frontline services has now had or been offered a second dose.
And everyone over the age of 60 has now had or been offered at least a first dose.
All our teachers have had or been offered a first dose and will be offered a second dose this weekend.
Already we are booking citizens in their 50s for their first appointments.
We have been able to do this because of the incredible support we have had from the United Kingdom.
And what an incredible job our vaccination team is doing.
More generally, the picture in St Bernard’s Hospital is now as follows:
There have been no admissions to the Critical Care Unit overnight.
The overall picture in CCU is of 8 COVID patients in that unit now, with 6 of them ventilated.
There has been only one overnight admission to the Victoria Ward, now our only COVID ward.
The overall picture in Victoria Ward is of 8 patients in that ward now, of whom 7 are stable or improving.
This is a significant improvement in numbers at St Bernard’s especially in the Critical Care Unit where patients are now starting to step down and off ventilators.
There are now 0 active cases in residents in ERS
All three are stable or improving.
This is frankly a tribute to the hard work, diligence and effectiveness and professionalism of our Critical Care Unit, Victoria Ward and ERS staff.
They are owed a huge debt of gratitude.
The GHA’s Mortuary capacity is now also restored.
The sustained decrease in new cases of COVID- 19 is a vindication of our lock down strategy.
It is also a good reason to reassess the restrictions in place and how we can safely start to remove these.
In doing so, we are mindful of the World Health Organisation warning today against hasty unlocking.
We will therefore ensure that the measures we lift are designed to deliver a process of unlocking which is safe and responsible.
For that, we need to take one step at a time.
We need to act in a way which allows us to monitor the effects of each measure and permits us to tighten up again if we need to.
As Gibraltar remains on a Major Incident posture, I convened COVID Platinum to consider all these matters on Wednesday.
Our decision is to continue our unlocking programme in a measured manner.
Our thinking and logic revolves around the fact that our four most at risk cohorts will be 7 days post second dose by the weekend of Friday the 19th February.
Golden Hour will therefore continue until the 1st March, but not beyond.
But the over-70s lockdown WILL NOT be renewed once it lapses next week.
If you are over 70, please behave AS IF you were in lock down until have had7 days after your second dose.
If you have not been vaccinated and you are over 70 or in one of the four at risk categories, please contact the GHA immediately.
As a result of this logic, also, whilst non-essential shops will need to remain closed on Bank Holiday Monday of this week, they will be able to re-open on Saturdays as from the 20th of this month.
That will mean a full re-opening schedule for our non-essential shops for two out of four weekends this month of February.
Those who can of course, should continue to work from home until the 1st of March if possible.
Gibraltar will hopefully be able to STEP DOWN from Major Incident posture on the 1st of March.
Catering establishments will also be able to open as from the 1st of March.
Until then, the catering industry will continue to receive 100% BEAT.
I am also pleased to confirm that our Business Support measures will continue for February and a full statement will be issuedon Tuesday detailing these for each of the sectors.
Our update for businesses will include details for those that we have closed and those that remain open, albeit with very limited trade.
TO BE CLEAR: businesses that have been ordered to close for February will also have the increased rental discount scheme rolled over for the month of February.
In this respect, private landlords are encouraged to provide a 50% discount to their tenants for February also, with the discount being reduced to 25% for the month of March.
Within the parameters that are available to us, we are seeking to continue providing critical support to our business community and totheir employees.
This has been our intention from day one and will continue through this pandemic to live up to that requirement to support our businesses and to give our workers the shield they need from its worst effects of the pandemic.
We have also been working closely with the Department of Education and with the Teachers’ Union on all aspects of lockdown education and on unlocking.
The Minister for Education has been meeting the Teachers’ Union this afternoon.
I can confirm that Minister Cortes will therefore be progressing the opening of schools for the 22nd of February.
This will put the vast majority of our teachers more than 7 days post their second dose of vaccine when we re-open our schools.
Our 16 to 18 year olds have been offered the vaccine and many have already had a first dose.
Our school buildings are being prepared for re-opening.
You will recall we legionnaires disease in some school buildings last time we re-opened after a lengthy lockdown.
We have ensured that we have dealt with all those issues as we now move to reopen our schools again.
Children’s extra-curricular activities and training will be able to start also from the 22nd February.
Also on the 22nd, we shall see our bus services returning to normal.
That will include of course the schools bus services.
With our schools re-opening on the 22nd, we consider that we need to monitor carefully the effect of that re-opening.
We expect that there may be more infections, but that these will NOT lead to hospitalisations in large numbers that the GHA will not be able to handle.
The lower numbers of hospitalisations should also lead to many less instances of severe illness or death.
Our aim throughout the past year has been to act to prevent the GHA being overwhelmed.
We believe that these unlocking measures will lead to increases in infections but NOT to the GHA being overwhelmed.
I emphasise that because that is the key logic driving our decision making.
If the GHA were to be overwhelmed, we would have to reassess and potentially we might have to lock down again.
But this is something of course we want to avoid at all costs.
In order to ensure that we do not suffer an unexpected relapse in the numbers of cases which might lead to the GHA being overwhelmed, a number of lighter restrictions will therefore have to remain in place.
Curfew will continue for now from 10pm to 6am.
We expect we will be able to undo curfew by mid-March.
But will nonetheless keep this under weekly review in case we can undo curfew earlier.
The number of persons who can gather will continue to be restricted.
That number will increase from 8 to 12 as from the 22nd February also.
Wearing of masks will continue to be a requirement everywhere for the rest of February.
We will review this in keeping with the WHO advice for the month of March.
Public worship will be permitted from Saturday the 20th February, but with appropriate and very strict social distancing and mask-wearing continuing to be observed.
For the same reason, sports training etc will need to be reintroduced as it was at the time we last unlocked in spring and summer.
We must be clear in one thing.
This exercise in unlocking is a balance of risk.
We have an obligation to protect personal freedom and your civil liberties.
We have a concurrent duty to protect life and to avoid serious illness or injury.
That balance will only permit the legitimate imposition of restrictions on freedom where we believe that we need to do so to protect the GHA’s ability to provide treatment.
But we must be clear in our understanding that, as we unlock, we can expect the number of infections to rise.
We must keep an eye on that.
But we must also not be surprised by the rise in infections.
We will once again need to be very alive to the work of the contact tracing bureau and to the need for testing, tracing and isolating where appropriate.
Let us be clear also that the State cannot nanny each of us.
As we move out of different lock down stages, each of us has a responsibility to bear for our actions.
For example, our people should not go to Spain to do there what is not allowed here.
We each have our part to play.
We have to understand how we can protect ourselves or others or how our recklessness can expose and lead to us being infected or to others being infected as a result of our actions.
So I once again implore my fellow Gibraltarians follow our rules on social distancing, hand and respiratory hygiene as well as mask wearing.
My dear friends, today should have marked the start of our children’s first ever winter midterm break, with a bank holiday on Monday to help parents to spend more time with their children.
Let us be very prudent as we see our children take a break from online learning and as they gear up for a much desired return to school.
Let us ensure our actions are designed to reinforce the work done in lockdown and to not to throw it away.
Let us ensure that the sacrifices so many have made these past months are honoured by us all now.
So please do not waste the effort Gibraltar has made by running off to crowded bars and restaurants in Spain.
All you will achieve if you do that is that YOU will bring the virus back to Gibraltar.
YOU will be the vector that potentially creates a new spike in infections.
YOU could be the reason for a new lock down.
It’s that simple.
Finally, many of you have continued to get in touch to tell us of Gibraltarian clinicians working on COVID around the world.
I emphasise that we are as proud of those of our clinicians who are working outside of Gibraltar as we are of those who are working here.
No more and no less.
Dr Khemani who is working round the clock in West Middlesex and Northwick Park.
Dr Pitto who is working in the COVID- 19 ward in Kings College Hospital, in London.
Ms Mascari who is a radiographer in Harrogate in North Yorkshire.
And the other Dr Khemani who is an NHS dentist -providing emergency dental care during the pandemic in London.
Happily Dr Meenal Viz is now with us here in Gibraltar.
She popped in to see me this week as she has started a short stint here in Gibraltar alongside our own, brilliant, GHA and ERS clinicians.
Gibraltarians around the world, doing their bit to help deal with COVID- 19.
Now its down to us Gibraltarians in Gibraltar to follow the rules and ensure we do what we need to do to keep COVID-19 at bay.
Now I’ll take questions from journalists here at No 6 Convent place and from some who have sent their questions in.