The Government is disappointed by the misleading and incorrect press release issued by the leader of Together Gibraltar in relation to the Government’s policy on the use of Lateral Flow Tests as well as her further misleading and incorrect assertions in her GBC interview. The position Ms Hassan Nahon is taking is no doubt designed to be popular, in keeping with her populist agenda, but it is directly contrary to the advice of the Director of Public Health. It is also, not surprisingly, completely contradictory to the position Ms Hassan Nahon has previously taken on adopting ‘precautionary’ approaches. Once again, Ms Hassan Nahon’s inherently contradictory positions on sensitive matters is highlighted.
Earlier this week, on the express advice of the Director of Public Health (which the Government had sought in order to make such tests available), the Government announced it would not be making lateral flow tests available for at-home testing. This was due to a number of reasons which were explained by the Director of Public Health, for example; ensuring tests are undertaken by trained medical professionals provides quality assurance of the test and its results and also the fact that keeping test results under the remit of the Director of Public Health ensures she is able to maintain epidemiological control over Gibraltar’s case incidence and transmission rates. For Ms Hassan Nahon to criticise the Government of this decision is simply shocking and irresponsible given this was stated to be a decision taken following the professional advice of the most senior Public Health advisor the Government has to its disposal, namely Dr Helen Carter, the Director of Public Health. The position has been consistent in Gibraltar under successive Directors of Public Health, Dr Sohail Bhatti having originally advised vehemently on the policy. This advice, however, is constantly and continuously kept under review and the Government will always act on the latest advice of its Director of Public Health.
Ms Hassan Nahon also raises a number of other inaccuracies in her statement, designed simply to attract media attention and to try and score cheap political points without having regard for the health and well-being of her fellow citizens. To do this in normal times is irresponsible, to do so in the context of the continued Covid pandemic is nothing short of disgraceful.
Ms Hassan Nahon said that the Government has been “mirroring every guidance, directive and policy from the UK ever since the pandemic began”. This is factually incorrect. The Government of Gibraltar makes decisions for itself following the advice of its Director of Public Health. Two clear examples where Gibraltar’s Public Health policy differ from the UK are as follows: all unvaccinated passengers travelling by air to Gibraltar require a COVID-19 test to be taken before departure from the United Kingdom and also on arrival to Gibraltar, however, in the UK, there is no requirement to test on the day of arrival, neither is there a requirement for pre-departure tests to be taken across the board, regardless of vaccination status.
Additionally, Gibraltar has been ahead of the United Kingdom on its public health advice in the past. In Gibraltar, fully-vaccinated close contacts of active positive cases were exempted from isolation before the policy was introduced in the United Kingdom. This shows that Public Health decisions in Gibraltar are taken dependent on the epidemiological situation and vaccine take-up and not based on what the United Kingdom does, as Ms Hassan Nahon claims.
In her statement, the Together Gibraltar leader criticises the Government by saying that “people are being charged £30 per [lateral flow] test” at the rapid test facility at the airport. In doing so, Ms Hassan Nahon conveniently forgets to mention that these £30 LFTs are designed mainly for those travelling. Lateral Flow Tests have been administered for FREE at the COVID-19 Drive-through in Midtown as they are an approved method of screening. These are administered mainly to those who are asymptomatic as part of the Government’s robust screening regime as well as it being available to anyone who may wish to be screened.
In an interview with GBC, Ms Hassan Nahon says that “the Government has just, days ago, cancelled a demonstration because they don’t want people to pass on the virus”. This is also factually incorrect. The Government did NOT cancel the demonstration being organised by Unite the Union. This was a decision taken by the organisers themselves, following the advice put forward by the Director of Public Health and is a decision, and a responsible one at that, which the Government welcomes and feels was the right thing to do given the high prevalence of the virus at present. The union were in direct contact with the Director of Public Health on the matter and made an independent decision for themselves based on that advice. The statement by Ms Hassan Nahon is therefore as much an insult to the Union as it is an attack on the Government.
The Minister for Health, the Hon Samantha Sacramento, said: “I am very disappointed, although not surprised, by the statement issued by Ms Hassan Nahon yesterday. Her statement, as the Government has demonstrated, is full of inaccuracies which are designed to pull the wool over your eyes with the hope that she will gain some much needed popularity. It is frankly completely irresponsible for a politician with absolutely no Public Health or indeed health qualifications like herself to criticise the Government’s policy on Lateral Flow Tests when this decision has been taken following the advice of the Government’s Director of Public Health. It is absolutely astonishing that that public health advice is being politicised. The statements that we have heard from Ms Hassan Nahon belie either, she does not understand, makes no effort to understand or is incapable of understanding.
“I call on Ms Hassan Nahon to be more careful when criticising decisions of this nature as all she is doing is showing her political inexperience and lack of understanding of public administration. She is also contradicting herself, although she does that so often it clearly doesn’t matter too much to her so long as her positions are positive!”