My fellow Gibraltarians,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This evening, following my return from London, the Cabinet met to consider the decision of the Spanish President, Pedro Sanchez, to declare a State of Emergency in Spain from tomorrow to deal with the spread of the Pandemic COVID-19 virus.
That declaration vests important powers in the government of our neighbouring State in order to enable them to ramp up their work in controlling the spread of Coronavirus COVID-19 throughout the geography of Spain.
In order to highlight the seriousness with which the spread of COVID-19 is being handled by the Government in Madrid, the laws relating to the state of emergency in Spain give the Spanish Prime Minister wide powers of control in respect of movement of persons and vehicles, assets and powers to ensure the availability of essential goods for the population.
The Spanish Government joins the Governments of countries like Italy and Denmark in taking bold, decisive action to delay the spread of COVID-19, to do what they can to help ‘flatten the curve’ and minimise the risks of their health systems collapsing.
Here at home, and while I was returning to Gibraltar today, the Minister for Public Health, John Cortes, has already been in contact with Public Health colleagues in Spain to offer our support and cooperation in respect of the work being done in Spain to control the virus.
I have also been in contact with counterparts to offer support and cooperation.
Our lines of communication have been, and remain open, friendly and collegiate.
COVID-19 knows no borders and discriminates against no one.
We must cooperate in order to best deal with this issue.
In the coming hours, I will be in contact also with political representatives of the region around us.
There are no plans or indications that the frontier will be in any way affected by this measure.
Gibraltar has no plans to create any restrictions on entry at our frontier arising from this measure or by the wider spread of the virus in Spain.
Do not believe untrue statements that suggest we may be implementing such plans.
We are following the science.
There is no other way to handle a situation like this.
We have the benefit of the many experts, both local and from beyond our shores, on whose expertise we can count and on whose recommendations we must act when the time is right.
We are clear that the virus will, inevitably, soon be spreading in Gibraltar.
Stopping COVID-19 at the border, or at any of our other entry points, was never an option.
The focus of our efforts now is on slowing down the impact of it.
But it is important, for any Gibraltarian or Gibraltar resident in Spain, that you are aware and familiarise yourself with what the declaration of the State of Emergency means and what it does not mean.
THAT IS WHY TONIGHT ALL OUR ELDERLY RESIDENTIAL SERVICES ARE ON LOCK DOWN.
The fact is that we must move to do everything we can to delay the spread of the Pandemic virus in our own Community.
This afternoon when I landed from London, I met with representatives of the Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses as well as the GBGA.
I have also just briefed the Leader of the Opposition and Ms Hassan Nahon.
On Monday, I will announce a package of measures to seek to assist our business community in dealing with the economic impact of the spread of the virus throughout the world.
Tomorrow I will meet with representatives of Unite, the GGCA and the NASUWT.
I know that there are different views about whether schools should remain open or not.
I have to emphasise to you that the advice we have from Public Health professionals is that our schools should remain open.
The advice from the Department of Education is that there is no reason why our schools should not remain open.
If we close the schools, the advice we have is that we will push the virus towards the most vulnerable in our Community, who are the very people we are seeking to and must protect at all costs.
We will also encumber those who we need manning our essential services with issues related to childcare.
It is therefore the opinion of the experts that, on balance, at this stage, weighing the potential impact and benefit of a school closure against the potential impact on human resource availability and the likely increased contact between school children and the demographic most at risk from coronavirus, the schools should remain open.
You may have heard the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, speaking about the new ‘delay’ phase the British Government is moving to as it works to tackle the spread of the virus.
They explained the basis under which most schools in the UK will remain open.
The science tells us that the closure of schools will only have a marginal impact on controlling the spread of COVID-19. To achieve that marginal benefit, it is believed schools would need to close for thirteen to sixteen weeks. Such a closure is a very difficult, high-impact initiative which would test the resources of most families, especially those with two working parents.
Whilst closing the schools must remain on the cards as a possible future initiative, the danger of doing this early is that, by the time we are experiencing peak infection rates, parents will have likely exhausted their ability to keep children at home. If we do this too early, we save less lives.
I am conscious that many of you will be thinking that just because that’s the advice for the UK, it doesn’t mean that we should apply it here.
That is correct.
The decision to keep schools open here is one that we have made based on the Gibraltar case for keeping them open. It is based on the science as we believe, and our experts believe, apply to the Gibraltar context.
It is, of course, a decision which is being kept under constant review too.
That does not mean that our schools will necessarily continue as normal.
We will work with the NASUWT on matters relating to teacher absences and advice in respect of more vulnerable children and, of course, those teachers who by dint of their own underlying health conditions, may be required to take special measures.
Schools may not be able to continue to offer the full range of classes etc, but for now they remain the best environment for our children to be in during this period of infection, EVEN IF the virus is transmitted in the school environment and from the school environment into the home.
We are not, I can assure you, missing the fundamental basis of the concerns voiced by many of you.
At this stage, we must all be united in supporting our health professionals and not second guessing the actions we are taking on their advice.
We will nonetheless continue to keep all of this under advice.
Things are changing almost on an hourly basis.
Any decision to close schools will be announced by the Government in consultation with the NASUWT.
You should therefore NOT trust any statement on any social media site that suggests that the schools will be closed unless you see it on either the Government’s social media channels or on my own personal ones.
If it isn’t in the established national media and the National Broadcaster, do NOT believe what you are reading or what you are told.
Do not fall for irresponsible fake announcements in this or any other respect.
WE ARE KEEPING NOTHING FROM YOU.
WE WILL NOT KEEP ANYTHING FROM YOU.
TRUST US AS YOUR SOURCE OF INFORMATION.
Already you will have seen that we are providing you daily updates via Gibtelecom.
I expect to convene Parliament next week to take further measures to provide us with additional powers where necessary.
I have agreed with the Opposition MPs this evening that the meeting will be held without questions, so we are able to produce legislation where appropriate.
I will say more on Monday.
But please bear with us as we act in order to discharge our first duty as your Government:
To ensure the safety and security of our people.
For now, we must all be clear as we go into a time which will be different in many ways to what most of us have lived through in recent memory:
WE WILL GET THROUGH THIS.
THERE WILL SOON BE A VACCINE.
WE WILL SOON BE ABLE TO PROVIDE ALL SERVICES AS WE DID BEFORE.
LET US SHOW THE BEST OF GIBRALTAR FROM NOW.
IT’S TIME TO COME TOGETHER IN THE COMMON, PUBLIC INTEREST.
LET US USE THIS TIME TO PROTECT OUR DEAREST RELATIVES AND FRIENDS.
BECAUSE THE HARSH REALITY – AS THE PRIME MINISTER STATED YESTERDAY – IS WE ARE ALL LIKELY, IN THE COMING WEEKS AND MONTHS, TO LOSE RELATIVES AND LOVED ONES, BEFORE THEIR TIME.
PLEASE, ENSURE YOU DO THE RIGHT THING TO PROTECT THE MOST VULNERABLE IN OUR COMMUNITY. YOUR PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS.
THOSE WHO ARE ELDERLY OR INFIRM.
LET’S KEEP THE VULNERABLE SAFE.
LET US BE CONSCIOUS OF THE EXTRAORDINARY EFFORT OF OUR PUBLIC HEALTH PROFESSIONALS AND OUR PUBLIC SERVANTS.
THE HANDS ON LEADERSHIP OF KRISH RAWAL, SOHAIL BHATTI AND PAUL BALBAN HAS DELIVERED AN UNPRECEDENTED NUMBER OF FREE BEDS IN HOSPITAL AND A 500% INCREASE IN THE ICU CAPACITY WE HAVE AVAILABLE.
I THANK EVERY SINGLE ONE OF OUR HEALTH PROFESSIONALS NOW ON BEHALF OF ALL OF US.
PLEASE HELP THEM IN EVERY WAY YOU CAN.
AND LET US LOOK FORWARD TO BETTER DAYS.
BECAUSE BETTER DAYS WILL COME.
ON MONDAY I WILL SAY MORE ABOUT THE ADDITIONAL MEASURES WE WILL BE TAKING.
PLEASE LET US NOW KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON IN DEALING WITH THIS ISSUE TOGETHER AS BEST WE CAN TO PROTECT US ALL AS MUCH AS WE CAN.
I will now take questions from members of the press.