Welcome to another information press conference from No6 Convent Place.
Today is another sad day.
Since I last addressed you on Monday, there have been 14 more confirmed deaths from COVID-19.
Of these, 7 were residents of Elderly Residential Services.
Today, we suspect another death in the Community which is being investigated by the Coroner as likely also being from COVID-19.
This disease is undoubtedly taking a tragic toll in our Community.
For that reason we must ensure that we supress the curve of new infections as quickly and as effectively as possible.
Today, the total number of persons still infected with COVID-19 at Elderly Residential Services, is presently 92.
We have enjoyed 31 full recoveries at ERS.
Happily, the vast majority of those infected at ERS have recovered or will recover.
That is not to say however, that we will not yet see more deaths in those facilities.
In the last 24hours, we have seen one additional admission to the Critical Care Unit at St Bernard’s Hospital.
There have been 3 admissions to Victoria Ward and 1 admission to John Ward.
The overall picture presents us with 11 patients in the CCU, of whom 9 are ventilated.
The age ranges in CCU go from people in their 70s to a person in their 50s.
Today, there are 26 patients in Victoria Ward, of whom 21 are stable or improving.
There are an additional 15 patients in total in John Ward of which all are stable.
The age ranges in these Wards are from the early 90s to the mid 30s.
That is important for people to note.
There are all ages in our hospital, not just elderly people.
Please do realise that.
We are all at risk.
Please do not forget that.
More generally in Gibraltar, we yesterday carried out a total of 1,250 tests for COVID-19.
Of those, 24 showed positive for the virus. Of which 18 are resident in Gibraltar
An additional 64 persons have now recovered from the virus.
The R rate is now in the region of 0.6 to 0.7.
The number of active cases in Gibraltar is now down to 605.
That is is frankly excellent progress.
We should not expect to see zero new infections before we start to unlock.
With an R below 1, we are moving in exactly the right direction.
But we need R to be below 0.5 for two cases of COVID to lead to 1, that is to say, to see a consistent reduction.
Unfortunately, it is not yet clear that we are seeing those results with the consistency necessary to be able to confidently lift our lockdown.
Indeed, we must be careful not to unlock prematurely and give rise to a bigger spike in the future.
In that respect, this morning I chaired meetings of both COVID PLATINUM and of the CABINET to analyse this information.
I considered these issues yesterday also with the Leader of the Opposition.
The recommendation of PLATINUM COMMAND is that we should continue in exactly the same posture of lockdown for a further week.
That recommendation has this morning been accepted by the CABINET.
As a result, Gibraltar will remain in LOCKDOWN for a further seven days.
That means that every person in Gibraltar is under a STAY AT HOME ORDER.
You may leave your home only for work or essential purposes, including exercise.
BUT PLEASE DO NOT LEAVE YOUR HOME UNLESS IT IS ESSENTIAL.
As I indicated in Parliament last Friday, we do not believe that we are able to release the lockdown this week.
We do believe however, that we WILL be able to start to release the lockdown next week.
I think we owe it to all of you to not just review the current posture constantly, as we must in order to demonstrate our respect for your fundamental rights.
We also owe it to you, to try to give you a view of what the direction of travel is, subject of course, to the data that comes in.
And so, if we continue to see the downward trend that we are seeing up to now, then, we do expect to lift the lockdown next SUNDAY 31st JANUARY.
As a result, we will permit non-essential shops to open from MONDAY 1st FEBRUARY, but with restrictions to ensure safety of staff and patrons.
We will also permit the opening of hairdressers from that date, with the same restrictions we have had to date on staff wearing masks, patrons wearing masks whilst in waiting areas etc.
Gyms, subject to permits being granted for safe operation, should also be able to open then on a restricted basis.
We will, however, nonetheless, maintain a curfew from 10pm to 6am.
That decision will also be reviewed every 7 days.
I also need to be clear in setting out our thinking on catering establishments.
Platinum Command and the Cabinet agree it will not be advisable to permit the opening of catering establishments on the 1st of February.
We will continue to review that decision also every 7 days.
But our view at the moment is that catering establishments will likely not be permitted to re-open until the 1st March.
Additionally, we expect that we will reopen schools from the 1st of February.
John Cortes has been working closely with the Department of Education and our teachers’ union in this respect.
Our teachers for St Martin’s School have had the chance to have their vaccinations already today.
All our teachers will have had appointments offered for the next 48 hours.
Our inoculation programme for teachers will have delivered a first dose by the end of this weekend.
I want to thank the committee of the Teachers’ Union for their diligence and support in respect of these arrangements.
Our school buildings will be ready to reopen by the 1st February.
I can give parents the comfort that we are now planning firmly to open on that date, subject only to a major increase in the infection rate, which we do not now expect.
I know that the parents of pupils of St Martin’s and its nursery, Early Birds, are particularly in need of the return of formal education.
We have tried as hard as possible to return St Martin’s and Early Birds as soon as possible, and I want to thank the parents for their engagement with Minister Cortes to try and work through the issues relevant to them.
If the schools were not to open on 1st February, we are already prepared to make alternative arrangements for the children of St Martin’s and Early Birds.
On vaccinations generally, I am very pleased to be able to tell you that we have resumed inoculations on receipt of the new batch from the United Kingdom.
Once again, we cannot thank enough the FCDO, the Convent, the Department of Health and Social Care and the UK’s Strategic Command, the MOD / RAF and the Royal Gibraltar Regiment enough for their help in delivering the vaccine to Gibraltar.
The RGP is acting as escort to the vials for the GHA’s incredible work in getting the vaccine into our people.
I thank all involved in this magnificently organised inoculation exercise.
Our size really does run in our favour in this respect.
So, for the next seven days, we must continue in the same posture as we have since the beginning of this year.
I know we are all seeing how the pandemic is developing around the world.
We can see that Governments around the world are having to take similar measures.
And here, as we continue these restrictions, we do so not to dominate, but to deliver against our first obligation to our people.
To ensure the preservation of life above all else.
And to do so in a manner that respects our sacred obligation to protect also the liberty of each of us in keeping with our constitutional rights.
We will curtail those rights only and for as long as is necessary to deliver the primary aim of preservation of life.
Since I addressed you on Monday, we have received more expressions of condolences from around the world.
Very specifically, we have received condolences from the Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands and from the Isle of Man, which I have gratefully acknowledged on behalf of our people.
You have heard me say before, and I repeat, how proud I am of our GHA and ERS staff and of all our frontliners in law enforcement and every other frontline body in Gibraltar.
I want to just also say that I am very proud of those Gibraltarians outside of Gibraltar who are providing care health services in the NHS in the United Kingdom, in Australia, in Canada, in the Gulf and elsewhere.
Those are just the ones I know about.
Wherever you are in the world, we from Gibraltar are proud to see you beyond our shores involved in the provision of care in face of this pandemic.
Finally, I know that repeatedly appearing before you to talk about death is not uplifting.
But the fact that we have suffered another 14, probably 15 deaths since my statement on Monday to COVID-19 cannot be something we avoid.
In Gibraltar, no one is a statistic.
Every life is precious to us all.
Our last casualty from COVID-19 will be as important to us as our first.
We are working to get beyond this, but we are not yet beyond this.
We will be.
Of that, I have no doubt.