Earlier today, the GHA confirmed that a person in Gibraltar has been identified as having the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19. This person and their partner (who has had no symptoms) are a young couple. When they returned from Northern Italy, neither the person nor their partner had any symptoms of COVID-19.
It is important to note that the person who has been confirmed to have the virus was not in the category of people that Public Health England advised should be tested for it. They returned to Gibraltar from Northern Italy before the date that Public Health England advised was relevant for testing people from that area. The person was tested as a precaution when they were showing symptoms. This is evidence of the efficiency of the preparedness of Gibraltar’s health professionals and the extra precautions taken in Gibraltar over and above the minimum recommendations.
The Government continues to follow the best advice and guidance of our Public Health professionals. Our advice locally largely follows the same lines as that of the UK.
The Government and all relevant agencies have been preparing for this scenario for the last few weeks.
Plans are in place and are currently being implemented to take all necessary and reasonable steps to slow the spread of the virus as far as possible.
In this respect, as the Government considers its options to increase the amount of social space between individuals, a decision may be taken in the next few days to limit large public events as a precaution.
In relation to schools, the current advice is that because children are not badly affected by COVID-19, closing schools would only serve to increase pressure on the GHA and other public services because children would need to be cared for at home. Whilst this is under constant review, the decision has been taken to keep schools open at this stage – and this is very unlikely to change.
Noting the understandable concerns being expressed by many in our community arising from the international media focus on this virus, the Government emphasises the fact that this first case was announced by the GHA itself via the Government’s media office. The Government asks that the public take care only to look to official sources for reliable information. As was done today, any further cases will be announced as soon as the Government and the GHA are able to and the Government and GHA will be open and transparent at all times.
The Government and the GHA strongly believe that keeping the community well informed is one of the best ways to keep Gibraltar safe. The Government therefore asks people to refrain from engaging in speculation on social media and keep themselves informed using official Government sources.
Public Health Gibraltar are in direct contact with Public Health England, who in turn report to other European and international bodies. Gibraltar’s authorities are also working with Spanish public health bodies to ensure full transparency, communication, coordination and co-operation against this global concern.
The Director of Public Health, Sohail Bhatti said: “We have anticipated this event. We had been expecting the virus to arrive in Gibraltar and we have been busy developing our plans to tackle it. In fact, we identified the case even though it did not fit into the criteria advised by Public Health England, whose advice we are mirroring. Our infection control practitioner tested the patient through an abundance of caution. I think this shows we are working hard to keep our community safe. The Government thanks all those who are subjecting themselves to self-isolation which is onerous in itself, in order to protect the rest of the community from even the potential for the virus to spread more quickly.”
The Minister for Public Health, Hon Professor John Cortes, said: “The communication between us and Public Health England has been very fluid. I have also been in touch with colleagues in Spain. The presence of the virus in Gibraltar has been reported through relevant public health channels internationally and at a European level. It is important that we work to coordinate and communicate in order to properly cooperate, and that is what we have done. That is what builds confidence and will ensure that our community can continue to operate with the minimum possible disruption.”
The Chief Minister, Hon Fabian Picardo QC MP, said: “The work that colleagues in Public Health and the GHA have been doing, together with all other relevant Government agencies, has meant that we have been fully prepared for this first positive test result for COVID-19 in Gibraltar. It is important that we recognise the reasons for concern but that no one should be allowed to exaggerate the circumstances we are dealing with. We have also been the first to announce the news of the arrival of the virus in Gibraltar within hours of the test result being made known to us and just after the patient was advised. That shows the public that we are not out to hide anything at all and we, and the established media through which we communicate our message, can be trusted to be the reliable source of information on this outbreak. The public need not seek to rely on information from unofficial sources who are often more concerned to alarm and to reach notoriety than they are to provide reliable information. The GHA is dealing with the issues that arise very well and is fully prepared to deal with the spread of the virus. To avoid unnecessary pressure building up, we need to work together as a community to slow the spread of the virus. We also need to be very conscious about which are the most at risk categories and try to avoid exposing them to the virus as much as possible. That means avoiding unnecessary contact with the elderly or the infirm. It is important to follow the advice of the professionals and not to jump at the most alarmist posts on social media. We all have a role to play in controlling the spread of the virus and what we are each asked to do is not overly onerous. We need to wash our hands well with soapy water for as long as it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice and to bin tissues. We need to cough into our sleeves and not expectorate over others, surfaces or foodstuffs. This is basic hygiene and we should continue to act in this way even after this virus has become a distant memory. Our health workers now need our support and practising these basic hygiene measures seems trivial but is hugely important. You will do more for Gibraltar by washing your hands, properly binning your tissues and coughing into your sleeve than by speculating on Facebook or Twitter. I know I am joined by all in Gibraltar in thanking our health and public health professionals, and all those who are self-isolating and in wishing the patient in question a full and speedy recovery.”
The Government is confident that Gibraltar is as ready as possible for the impact of the virus.
The Government continues to take the advice of our Public Health professionals and the situation is under constant review.
The best thing that everyone can do to protect themselves and their loved ones is to wash hands regularly and well with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. It is also a good idea not to shake hands, hug or give kisses when greeting colleagues, friends and relatives for the time being, especially if they are over 70. We know that the elderly and people with chronic health conditions are the most vulnerable, so we must all do our part to keep ourselves and our loved ones out of harm’s way.
If you do not feel well, please do not go to the Primary Care Centre or to St Bernard’s Hospital as this puts you and others at greater risk. Go home, avoid public transport and call 111 as soon as you can to tell us about your symptoms.
For almost 90% of people, the symptoms will be very mild and most people who contract the virus will be able to recover well and quickly at home. 99% of people will likely fully recover. The focus now is to increase the distance between people in order to try to slow the spread as much as possible, and to take extra care with older and vulnerable friends and relatives. Think twice before you pay them a visit and strongly consider whether you could phone or video call them instead.
Please look to official sources for advice, particularly www.wuhan.gi.
- PROTECT your loved ones – call, don’t visit
- WASH your hands
- CALL 111 if you feel unwell