- Referendum on Abortion will go ahead
- Schools will remain open
- Bus services to be reduced as from Monday 16th March
- All Government cash counters will stop operating from Monday 16th March
- Lottery suspended for 12 weeks
- Advice to avoid religious services and ceremonies, and large social occasions
The Government of Gibraltar continues to take the best advice of our Public Health professionals in order to slow the spread of coronavirus COVID-19 and to protect the elderly and those with chronic health issues. Following multiple meetings of the Core Group last night and this morning, extended measures will be implemented to increase social distancing. The primary purpose of these measures is to try to prevent as far as possible the spread of the virus to the elderly and those with unstable chronic illnesses, who are at serious risk. Slowing the spread even amongst those not at serious risk, but who might become sick with milder symptoms, will allow for Gibraltar to have as much resilience as possible in terms of resources and service provision.
The Referendum on Abortion
The Government has repeatedly checked the advice on whether the referendum should go ahead. The Director of Public Health has advised that the Referendum on Abortion can be managed in a way that the risk to voters is kept to a minimum. Polling stations are well ventilated areas and the voting process is fluid, with little time spent in close proximity to others. On this basis, the Referendum will go ahead as scheduled. Any lines that form at polling stations will be managed by the RGP to ensure a minimum of one metre distance between voters and hand sanitiser will be available. Importantly, voters MUST take their own pen or pencil with them. The Count staff and observers will be kept to fewer than 100.
Schools will remain open
Previous advice that schools should remain open still stands. This is a measure that the Government considers carefully on a daily basis, and is a decision taken on the advice of Public Health experts that closing schools would pose a considerably greater risk of the spread of infection than keeping them open does. This measure is specifically designed to prevent the spread of infection to the elderly, as grandparents are likely to become the primary care givers of children with working parents in the event of a school closure.
Schools will not be proceeding with preparations for First Holy Communions and will be liaising with the Church authorities for these to be taken at a later date.
All available evidence shows that children experience very mild symptoms of coronavirus COVID-19. We must all do our part to protect their grandparents, who will be affected worst.
Reduction of Bus Services
Bus numbers 5 and 10 from the Frontier to Market Place will continue as normal. All other bus services will be restricted from Monday 16th March 2020 with the following measures:
– All routes will operate as normal until 9:30am, when they will stop
– All routes will operate again from 3:00pm to 6:00pm
– Persons over 60 years of age will not be able to use the bus at any time. This will be enforced by bus drivers who will check ID.
Closure of all Government Cash Counters
In order to stop the spread of infection via physical payment by exchange of cash or card and in order to avoid social contact in queues, all Government payment counters will be closed as from Monday 16th March. All payments will be made by bank transfer and those who do not have a bank account will be helped to set one up for this purpose. This does not apply to the Gibraltar Savings Bank.
Lottery suspended for 12 weeks
This is an additional measure designed to increase social distancing, particularly amongst the elderly, and avoid the formation of queues in public areas. The draws which have been postponed will be fixed for future dates and the ticket shares already sold will remain valid for those draws. More information will be made available in due course.
Government continues resilience planning
The Government continues to work on resilience planning to ensure the clerical delivery of the public sector, even in the worst case scenario that large numbers of public sector staff become sick at the same time. Measures currently being explored include the redeployment of staff to key areas and asking some members of staff to work from home where possible.
In addition to the measures outlined above, the Government strongly recommends against attending large gatherings including religious services and ceremonies, and social events, including nights out and events such as cinema screenings. Regular gym users, in particular, should take extra care to wash their hands and sanitise equipment before and after use. The Government is liaising with religious groups and others to this end.
It is important to remember that these measures seem drastic, but they are essential to protecting our family and friends who may be more vulnerable.
Acting Chief Minister, the Hon John Cortes, said: ‘These are exceptional measures in exceptional circumstances that are not taken lightly. The best advice from Public Health professionals is that the elderly and those with chronic health conditions should severely limit the amount of time they spend in public, only going out when absolutely necessary and avoiding peak times as much as possible. It is up to the rest of us to do what we can to follow this advice and prevent the spread of infection to vulnerable groups, who may be our own friends and family members.’
Speaking from London, the Chief Minister, the Hon Fabian Picardo QC MP, said: “We made these difficult decisions yesterday. They will change how we live our lives, but these are important changes to protect our elderly as we delay the inevitable spread of the virus. As soon as we are able to, we will resume all services as usual. After today’s irresponsible WhatsApp message by an anonymous individual, I call on all the community not to trust any source of information other than the Government’s official channels and the established media, that will invariably have checked with the Government before publishing item of news as fact.”