Welcome once again to another press conference from No 6 Convent Place.
This afternoon I must start by sadly recognising the death of 14 more fellow Gibraltarians since I last addressed you.
We mourn the passing of each of them.
Every one of them, leaves behind loved ones who have been deprived of them by COVID-19.
Today is actually the last time I will address you in the month of January 2021.
For that reason, I must reflect on the number of Gibraltarians we have lost since the 1st January.
We must remember that we started the year having lost 7 Gibraltarians to COVID.
We end the month having lost, as at midday today, 73 Gibraltarians to COVID.
That is just devastating.
There is no other way to describe that death toll.
66 of our people have been lost in just one month to COVID – with two days of the month still to go.
This is undoubtedly the highest toll in lives arising from one cause in such a short period ever in our history.
I confess that I am, like so many of you, distraught at the monumental loss of life we have suffered in this time.
Of course, we must put those numbers in the context of the international loss of life to COVID-19.
This week I wrote to the Prime Minister to express my condolences on the loss of 100,000 of our fellow Britons in the United Kingdom.
The loss of life in Spain already exceeds 57,000 people.
I have expressed condolences to our neighbours also.
And we must feel solidarity with the loss of life in every nation on the planet.
Here, on our Rock, the loss of one of us is felt by all of us.
We will all have lost a loved one.
A fellow Gibraltarian who we might not have known closely.
But a person we recognise as one of us.
My only hope, my dear friends, is that this is our saddest month.
And that as we say goodbye to January we will leave behind the coldest, cruellest and the deadliest month in the past one hundred years of our collective history as a people. And that we shall never see such a month again.
We will mourn together.
When we are able to gather and congregate, we owe it to our dead to mourn them collectively as a people.
And we will do so in a way that enables us all to join together in that moment of national mourning.
We must also mark the lives of those we have lost.
And so, I announce you today that I will bring a motion to our Parliament so that we will, I’m sure unanimously, commemorate this loss of life in a permanent monument to those we have lost to COVID-19.
This loss of life cannot EVER be forgotten.
Overnight the total number of tests for COVID carried out in our community yesterday was 1,223.
Of those 14 have been found to be new positive cases.
11 of those are residents of Gibraltar.
The total number of active cases in Gibraltar is now down to 369.
That number continues to show a downward trend.
The R rate is now calculated by the Director of Public Health to be below 0.5.
At the moment, there are 8 persons in our Critical Care Unit with COVID-19.
All of these are ventilated and some are, sadly deteriorating.
There are presently 16 patients on Victoria Ward, of whom 15 are stable or improving
There are an additional 13 patients on John Ward of whom all are stable.
In our Elderly Residential Services, now only 29 persons remain positive, with the majority thankfully recovered.
Only 3 of those at ERS are presently shown as deteriorating.
Clearly, however, this is an ever-changing picture.
As I stated when I addressed you two weeks ago, the way that the virus has got into ERS will be investigated as part of the inquiry we will carry out into these events.
I do want to say, however, that the fact that we will be carrying out an inquiry does not for one moment suggest that we are blaming anyone in ERS.
I have only praise for those in ERS and the GHA who are working to provide care to our elderly and infirm.
Their efforts have been extraordinary at every level.
I know that is how everyone in our community feels.
Family members of those at ERS, in particular, are full of praise for our doctors, our managers, our nurses, our carers, our cooks, our cleaners and all our staff at every level.
They have all gone above and beyond.
They have all put themselves at great risk.
Before vaccines were even available and before their vaccinations had taken effect.
And the same is true of our intensivists and our GHA staff at every level.
We could not ask for more from any of them.
I have said the same of all our frontline staff.
I will not repeat that now.
But in the same way as the time will come to mourn, so too, the time will come to celebrate the effort, the achievement and the strength of those who have given so much of themselves in this time and generation.
Today, the Minister for Health and the Medical Director have confirmed that the GHA will now DE-ESCALATE FROM state of BLACK ALERT to a state of RED ALERT.
Things are improving.
But we are not out of the woods yet.
At any other time, we would have considered a RED ALERT a state of deepest concern.
Today, I can understand why we might consider a relief after weeks of being at BLACK, the state of RED ALERT.
The GHA has had great demands placed on it.
At the same time as it has been dealing with the extra work that COVID has required, our Health Authority has delivered a brilliant vaccination programme.
In Gibraltar we have now finalised the first dose inoculation of the four most at risk cohorts and the frontline.
12,860 inoculations will have been administered by close of business today.
NOT ONE DOSE on a 6 dose per vial basis has been wasted.
We are now starting to provide the second dose to our four priority categories and to provide the first dose to those at 60 and below by age range.
We will tomorrow receive a further delivery of the Pfizer vaccine for this purpose, once again on the wings of the RAF angels.
We expect that the four most at risk categories and the frontliners will have their second doses in the first and second weeks of February.
Further deliveries are expected in coming weeks, subject of course, to issues with worldwide demand.
The fact that our four most at risk categories will have had their second doses by next week is a key factor in the decisions we have made in respect of all aspects of what we do next.
As John Cortes, the Minister for Education, has already explained, it is this which determined our position on the reopening of schools on the 22nd of February.
The reduction in positive cases is undoubtedly a result of the success of the various levels of lockdown that we have implemented by consensus in Gibraltar.
COVID PLATINUM Command met yesterday to consider all of these issues and the up-to-date data.
Today, I have spoken also to the Leader of the Opposition again in order to agree the measures that will remain in place going forward.
As a result of the reduction in new COVID cases, we will take the following measures as from Monday the 1st February.
Citizens under the age of 70 will be permitted to leave their homes between the hours of 6am and 10pm only.
You should nonetheless work from home if you can.
You should please not leave your home, unless you have to or for exercise, if you can avoid it.
That is our strong advice.
A curfew will remain in place for everyone during the period from 10pm to 6am.
Despite this, we implore you all not to leave home unless you need to.
Citizens over the age of 70 will be required by law to remain at home for the next 14 days.
The only exceptions for the over 70s will be medical appointments, work, shopping for essentials and an hour of exercise.
We will be therefore, re-introducing Golden Hour as from Monday so that the over 70s who wish to can exercise in a controlled environment.
Of course, the over 70s will be permitted to leave their home to attend for their second dose of inoculation.
We will review this STAY AT HOME ORDER for the over 70s in 7 days.
We expect it nonetheless to stay in place for 14 days.
I want you to understand the logic of it.
By requiring our over 70s to stay at home other than for limited purposes, we are ENSURING they get the maximum protection of the precious vaccine.
If we do not observe this, there is a risk that persons who have already had even the second dose of the vaccine will be infected as they do not have the maximum immunity developed in their bodies.
Of course, the same is true for everyone who has already been vaccinated.
Remember you are not at the maximum level of immunity until 21 days after the second dose.
In setting all of these new restrictions out, we understand that we have to balance general and mental health issues also against the issue of COVID.
Health is not a zero sum game.
For those reasons, we are all also agreed that we will open non-essential shops, gyms and beauty salons as from the 1st of February.
We will, however, not permit non-essential retail to operate on Saturdays or Sundays.
Those were the days when we experienced accumulations of people in Main Street at the time of the last unlocking.
To avoid that, we will permit opening of non-essential retail only from Monday to Friday for the first three weeks of the month.
Again, after the 22nd, we believe we may be able to take a different position.
We will review this every 7 days also.
But we expect we will not permit Saturday and Sunday opening until the 27th and 28th of February.
Gyms and sports clubs will be subject to controls and permits that will be issued by the Director of Public Health as was the case when we unlocked last year.
Hairdressers and beauty salons will only be able to operate on the basis of the restrictions in place at the time that we last unlocked.
Catering establishments will remain closed.
We do NOT anticipate opening catering again until the 1st of March.
We will of course continue to pay full BEAT to those establishments that are totally closed.
We will continue to assist with BEAT in respect of those that are operating.
Wearing of masks everywhere will remain mandatory as it is now.
The Upper Rock will remain closed to traffic but open to ramblers.
Children’s parks will, however, remain closed for now.
We will review this in 7 days also.
Different arrangements have been made for children with special needs and those will continue.
In respect of children who attend St Martin’s School and the Early Birds nursery, the GHA is making therapists available as from Monday.
The Department of Education is working also on a customised programme running up to Midterm for the next two weeks for those children.
I know John Cortes has met with parents’ representatives of those in St Martin’s and these arrangements are being well received.
For now, no more than two households should gather..
The numbers of people that will be able to gather in a public place will be set at 8.
Places of worship will be able to open for prayer and worship but ONLY in respect of numbers previously approved by the Civil Contingency Office always observing the strictest rules of social distancing and wearing of masks as well as hand-sanitizing protocols.
I should also bring to people’s attention the fact that rules have been hardened in La Linea and the Campo de Gibraltar.
La Linea is in effect in a lockdown.
Catering is closed and exiting and leaving La Linea is not allowed other than for permitted purposes.
I would urge our own people therefore not to seek to exit Gibraltar other than for the purposes that are permitted once you are in Spain and that you should familiarise yourself with to ensure you do not fall foul of Spanish law once in Spain.
Gibraltar REMAINS in a MAJOR INCIDENT POSTURE.
The reduction in numbers has come about ONLY as a result of the implementation of the lockdown we have just gone through.
If we start to behave now as if it is all over, we will throw away the hard work that we have done.
So please be EXTRA VIGILANT NOW.
Finally, if there is light at the end of this darkness it is light provided by science and scientists.
The data from Israel on the Pfizer vaccine suggests it is highly effective even against new strains of the virus.
Despite other disputes, the European Medicines Agency is expected to authorise the Astra Zeneca vaccine today.
And Johnson and Johnson have announced that they expect to seek licensing for their JANSSEN one dose vaccine.
And NOVAVAX have announced a vaccine also, which takes a different approach in its invoking of the relevant protein.
Remarkably, news reaches us of a Gibraltarian being involved in the development of that vaccine, Dr Roy Soiza.
A Gibraltarian graduate of Edinburgh University and now at Aberdeen University.
No doubt we will hear more about his work and the extraordinary work of Gibraltarians who have been involved in the front line of the battle against COVID in health agencies around the world.
Please do not assume we are aware of all of their stories.
Contact my office and let us know so we can highlight the work of these extraordinary Gibraltarian professionals around the world like Roy in Aberdeen, Meena in London, Gareth in Canada, Mark in Australia, Karen and Peter in Scotland and all of the rest of them.
Alongside our health, care and frontline professionals in Gibraltar, they all represent the very best of us.
Let me end by reminding you that second dose appointments for vaccinations will now be offered to people who have received their first dose.
In the vast majority of cases this will be at the same time and on the same day as the original appointment, but three weeks later.
As an example, if someone was vaccinated at 11:00am on Monday 11th January, their next appointment will be at 11:00am on Monday 1st February.
It is critically important that people keep their appointments for the second dose to avoid wasting precious vaccine.
It will not be possible to move appointments from one day to another, apart from in very exceptional circumstances, as there will not be any spare vaccine on other days as it has all been allocated.
Once the second doses have been given to our oldest and most vulnerable, the vaccination programme will continue to give second doses after 21 days, but also to give further first doses to the priority groups.
This includes continuing to vaccinate the last few people in their 60s, remaining key workers, and people who have been unable to be vaccinated so far as they were either self-isolating or within 28 days of a positive COVID test.
As we move into this new phase of partial unlocking, I implore all of you to follow the rules.
Observe the spirit as much as the letter of the new regulations to be published.
And please, please look after yourselves.
Assume every one you meet outside of your home has COVID in the way that you approach them.
Even your best friends.
Let us be extra cautious for the next three weeks as we give our most vulnerable and our frontliners that extra chance to build up the maximum immunity.
As ever when it comes to our small but great nation – UNITED we will succeed.
I will now take questions from journalists.