Ladies and gentlemen
Thank you all for being here this afternoon and thank you also to those of you who are joining is on GBC, online or on social media.
I did not expect to be involved in this press conference.
I was leaving you in the very capable hands of the Minister and Director of Public Health.
They will both, shortly, be dealing with the areas of their direct responsibility and answering your questions.
The reason I am attending is three fold.
First, because I know that there are issues evolving in relation to schools.
The second, the fact that overnight there have been issues involving Gibraltar Airport and I wanted to give you all an assurance in that respect.
Thirdly and finally, additionally, I have exercised powers to convene Parliament at short notice and I have tabled a Bill to extend the Financial Year, and I will want to say something in that respect.
I will go through those issues in turn.
I am aware of the fact that there many opinions on the issues of schools.
We are have acted at every turn on the advice of the clinicians and especially the Director of Public Health.
Yesterday we met with NASUWT.
We agreed to meet again on Thursday.
In fact, as a result of continuing developments, we have agreed to meet today again.
We will be meeting at the same time as the UK secretary of state is due to make a statement this afternoon.
We will as a result be making an announcement of what our position will be today again.
I would advise parents and pupils to be alert for that statement which we will ensure we issue as soon as possible after our meeting and in time for tonight’s news bulletin on GBC.
Our statement will of course be available on social media to enable everyone to plan ahead of tomorrow as may be appropriate.
We are now assured that the airport authorities in Malaga and Jerez have confirmed that those diverted to either of those airports will be able to travel down to Gibraltar.
Last night we found that operational difficulties with a flight created some mis-understanding and angst amongst passengers.
None of those issues arose from any intransigence from the Spanish authorities.
I think it is important that I should record that.
Indeed, what we found from the Spanish authorities was wholesome support and a positive approach to assist.
Moreover, as you will have seen this morning, I have taken a call from Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya.
During the call, which was the first time we met, we have had an opportunity of reflecting on the actions being taken to slow down the spread of the Coronavirus.
I have used the call to thank the Minister for the work done by her officials and officials of the Ministry of the Interior last night on the easyjet flight.
The minister has been clear that she is looking to work to ensure we continue to have the fluidity of persons and goods we need to have and has been positive and supportive throughout her communication.
I have thanked her also for reaching out at this sensitive time.
Additionally, we have been clear that the enemy here is the virus, which knows no borders, and we are going to approach it in that way.
This morning you will also have seen that the Government has convened a meeting of the Parliament for this Friday at 11am.
In doing so, I am relying on the power to convene Parliament in an emergency without having to give the usual five clear days notice.
I discussed this on a number of occasions with the Leader of the Opposition and Ms Hassan Nahon and both have all agreed not to ask questions for this meeting.
Additionally, this morning I have also published a Bill to amend the Appropriation Act 2019.
This Bill will work to extend the financial year 2019/20, for which a Budget Session was held in June.
The extension will initially be for six months until September of this year.
It may be extended beyond that in future.
This will enable me to put in place some elements of what is going to have to be an EMERGENCY BUDGET for the coming months.
This will include the further development of the measures I announced on Monday and other measures.
I am already looking at measures not just for business but also measures for employees who may be laid of or who have their employment suspended for a period in which their employers are either not operating or reducing operations.
It is important we should meet now, whilst we know we are able, to ensure that our finance laws, our Appropriation Act 2019, can cover the spending that we will need.
It is clear that we are not going to be able to prepare as normal in our annual internal spending round and prepare our Estimates Book in the usual way or have a normal Budget Session in June this year.
So we are preparing for that.
I have been working closely with the Minister for Economic Development and the Financial Secretary on this matter for some days now.
The matter was discussed by the Cabinet on Monday.
I raised this with the Leader of the Opposition and Ms Hassan Nahon and we have agreed this is the best way to proceed.
Based on the work of the Financial Secretary and his team, the Hon Sir Joe Bossano has spoken at length with Hon Roy Clinton on the numbers we are bringing to Parliament for what will be an initial six month extension to our Budget ‘year’.
This will also enable me to table emergency budget measures for business and to implement more measures as necessary by amending regulations and legislation as may be required to provide the necessary relief to businesses as this COVID 19 pandemic progresses.
I am very grateful for the cooperative approach taken by Hon Mr Azopardi in his role as Leader of the Opposition and Hon Ms Hassan Nahon, as well as the attitude of Hon Mr Clinton in respect of the need to move quickly on the financial aspects of this crisis.
On Friday we will also be dealing with the Bill that brings into effect UK double taxation agreement.
I know these are matters related to the financial aspects of the pandemic, but I know they are important to many in our economy.
I am now going to hand over to John Cortes who will address a number of separate issues.