CHIEF MINISTER, FABIAN PICARDO
Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I want to thank you all for tuning in to this information conference from No6 Convent Place.
Before I start my statement this afternoon in earnest, let me wish all members of our Muslim community a happy first day of Ramadan.
This Ramadan will be different to others – as has Easter and Passover.
I do hope you will all be able to observe the important parts of your rituals, even without the ability to worship together.
This afternoon I want to give you information on the latest statistics we are dealing with on the spread of COVID-19 through our community.
I will then talk about the renewal of the general lockdown regulations.
Then I will also talk to you about the first payments now being made under the BEAT COVID measures.
I will then ask Steven Linares, Minister for Housing, Youth and Sport to address you on some aspects of how his Ministries have been working on these matters during the COVID emergency.
So, ladies and gentlemen, today the total number of tests undertaken so far in Gibraltar for COVID-19 are 2,062.
The results pending are 76.
The results received are 1,986.
We have had 133 identified cases of COVID-19 in Gibraltar.
Of these, 129 are recovered and 4 remain active.
There are no COVID cases in our hospitals.
There have been no COVID deaths in Gibraltar.
It will not be lost on you that the number of people presently reported as having been detected as being positive with the virus is very low indeed.
We have only four infected individuals detected.
Our success in keeping that number low may be our greatest challenge in persuading you that the lockdown rules must continue.
But as we start to do more random testing, we will likely find many more asymptomatic carriers are present in our community.
So please do not think that we have beaten the virus.
Do not think it is now safe to go out with impunity.
It is NOT.
I want to be blunt, clear and honest with you:
The virus is out in our community and you would be foolish to relax your attitude to remaining safe indoors because the sun is shining or the numbers of infections detected is low.
And also remember that the virus is out in abundance in Spain and in the United Kingdom, from where we will see people access Gibraltar – perhaps, subject to some controls in the future.
For that reason, as we agreed on Monday and I announced with the Leader of the Opposition, we have overnight renewed the lockdown rules affecting all of our population.
The new regulations will take effect from today and have already been passed into law by the Minister for Civil Contingencies, Samantha Sacramento.
So please be clear – THE LOCKDOWN RULES CONTINUE.
The new rules have been passed into effect for another 30 days.
But they will be reviewed every Monday.
Remember I have told you that we will not allow these rules to remain in place for one moment longer than is necessary.
But neither can they be lifted – in whole or in part – one moment before we are able to confidently lift them.
And so, on Monday, we will review not just the rule relating to the over 70s, but also the rules relating to the general population that we have renewed today.
Remember also that in Gibraltar our rules have been designed to be more permissive than elsewhere.
Here, you have always been able to go out for exercise if you are under 70 and children have always been able to go out at last once each day.
That is why we are designing a bespoke exit-strategy for Gibraltar, which we expect to be able to publish very soon.
In preparing that strategy we will be following the recommendations set out by the World Health Organisation.
And we will have regard also to the advice and strategy being pursued in England, in Scotland, in Germany and in Spain as well as in other countries and areas.
We are look at every relevant piece of advice and example to prepare the best bespoke and most effective strategy for Gibraltar.
But let us be clear:
That strategy is not going to be about returning to normal.
Because we cannot return to normal for now.
It is going to be about living with the virus for now.
Social distancing is therefore unfortunately here to stay.
That will potentially mean temperature testing at entry points to Gibraltar or entry to businesses being controlled also with temperature access controls or areas of Gibraltar being controlled by temperature access controls. .
This may also involve guidance on the use of masks going forward.
It will likely involve a very different way of going to the beach this summer and it will involve people being encouraged to self-identify if they have the symptoms of the virus and to self-isolate without fear of financial loss when they do so.
The future may also involve very aggressive testing and even more aggressive contact tracing and where necessary the imposition of self-isolation.
It may involve new apps deployed on your phones.
We are already talking to the UK Department of Health and Google and Apple about these opportunities via colleagues in the Foreign Office with whom we have been working closely during the course of this public health emergency.
Additionally, we may also bring into use other technologies which we already have in place in Gibraltar, like our GIS system or our NSCIS systems being brought in to play to work together.
But if these technologies can be used to help is with the virus, we will be using them in a way that protects your privacy and your data as much as possible.
We will tell you much more about this as these opportunities develop.
And, I repeat, the foreseeable future will involve social distancing continuing.
It will involve businesses returning to a different world.
We will give you much more detail on all this as it develops.
I do think it is important to take a moment though, as we plan the future, for us to take stock and reflect on what has happened.
The fact is that science has helped us identify this problem.
But it is not yet helping us to solve it.
Why are we in lockdown?
Because we know the virus kills but we do not know how to cure patients or immunise patients.
And cure or vaccine are further away than we would want them to be.
So we have, in effect, had to resort to a quite blunt approach to slowdown the virus.
We have simply had to get out of its way.
We have had to retreat into our homes to avoid catching the virus.
To an extent, we have learnt the humbling limits of humanity’s abilities.
Our scientific knowledge, even our ability to map the human genome, has not yet been enough for mankind to harness a response, cure or immunity to virus.
That really is worth pausing to reflect on.
To an extent, COVID-19 has really put us in our place!
So please remember if you go out, you put yourself at risk.
You also put at risk the GHA’s ability to deal with other cases.
So please, only go out if you have to and in keeping with the rules.
And that includes those of you who feel the most frustrated.
Those of you who feel the bravest.
You could be dead within 21 days of contracting the virus.
Whatever your age.
Especially however, if you are over 70.
And I do not want to lose ANY of you to Coronavirus.
Whatever your age or your vulnerabilities.
So please understand that I fully sympathise with your frustrations.
And we will soon be giving you details of how we will permit exercise for our over 70s and introduce other flexibilities.
But for now, we are doing what we have to.
Frustrating though it is, and with the consequences we fully appreciate our rules have for your civil liberties.
Of course, as a result, we do not presently have a fully functioning economy.
BEAT COVID MEASURES
That is why we have had to design our Business and Employee Assistance Terms or our BEAT COVID Measures.
And today, we are making our first payments in respect of this scheme.
We are starting to make payments which will total in the region of £5m in the next couple of days.
These payments relate to the majority of the claims made up to last week.
They represent 4,500 employees in our economy.
They are employed by 750 employer companies who have claimed on their behalf.
Also being paid is a sum close to £310,000 in respect of 355 self-employed persons whose claims have been approved for payment.
Another 750 applications have been received and have to be processed and assessed.
That could push the total amount paid to the region of £6m just this month.
A fuller statement, with more statistical information, will be shared with the Leader of the Opposition and the Cabinet as well as with members of CELAC.
Once all applications for the month of April have been fully processed, a full statistical statement will be issued with breakdowns for the general public.
I must also tell you that we have received over 1,000 emails on enquiries in respect of the BEAT COVID measures.
These have ALL now been replied to by a team made up of John Paul Fa, Patrick Canessa, Ishbel Armstrong, Carl Rammage, Alison Cruz, Gerard Teuma and his team at the Ministry of Business, John Lester and his team at the Tax Office, Debbie Garcia and her team at the Employment Office and Charles Santos and his team at the Treasury.
This has been a magnificent effort led by Albert Mena as Financial Secretary.
They have become the midwives of this aspect of this project to keep our economy alive and jobs and working people protected and with the income that they need to put food on the table at this difficult time.
A large portion of all employees in our economy are therefore now on the Government’s books for this month.
But our spending now is to stave off social and economic collapse.
We will achieve that.
And I think we have made history here – especially for such a small administration – and we must appreciate how much work has gone into getting money out of the door quickly, properly checked and to the right recipients in such a short space of time.
And how we have calibrated this – working with unions and business representative organisations.
And also with an unprecedented level of cooperation and collaboration with the Leader of the Opposition and his Shadow Cabinet team.
Using Government to harness together all of the advice possible from across our economy.
And deploying all of the talent in the public service to make it a reality.
Exactly what you would have expected from us in this time.
Of course, the £6m that I have referred to does not include the amount of revenue that we have foregone in the past month and which will also greatly impact the bottom line in respect of the public finances.
And so, going forward, we will have to cut our coats to fit our cloth appropriately.
Remember this level of spending on our balance sheet has no precedent in history.
Not even in periods of war or of the closed frontier.
In those days, it was the UK spending.
UK support and sustain during the period of the closed frontier.
This is the first time that we are looking to sustain so much increased expenditure on the basis of just our own revenue.
Paying our own way.
So, when CELAC meets this week we will be looking also at what we can do to help businesses in coming months and what businesses might be able to come back, already, if with some precautions in place.
Because that will lead to the best way for us to produce revenue in coming months.
As well as looking at how we raise revenue in different ways in coming years.
Because we have arrived at this crisis with the firepower to do this.
But we have a duty to preserve our prosperity for future generations and ensure that we keep our finances strong for coming years as we come out of this crisis also.
Finally, I just want to remind you of this.
We are not out of the woods yet.
It is not yet even half time.
We have not beaten the virus.
It may not even be the end of the first quarter.
You have to be clear about that and not put yourself in danger of contracting the virus.
But I do feel we may now finally be at the end of the beginning.
Happily, we are also at the end of the beginning of this information conference.
And I am now very happy to invite my good friend, Steven Linares, to address you on the important work that his Ministries have been undertaking in the past weeks during this pandemic.
MINISTER FOR HOUSING, INFRASTRUCTURE, YOUTH AND SPORT, STEVEN LINARES
I want to inform you about some of the work done in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic in the areas of my ministerial responsibility.
I will start with Housing.
The Housing Department has worked tirelessly to reduce the impact of COVID-19 outbreak conditions on Housing Department workforce and customers.
We have tried to address all probable scenarios.
We have implemented all possible contingencies.
The aim is to continue providing our customers with a highly efficient service, whilst protecting our workforce and ensuring prioritizing of tasks and cross training, were necessary, to perform all functions with limited resources.
Our services are ongoing via telephone, e-mail and online facilities through the e-gov website.
The reporting office has continued to support all our tenants in adapting their priorities to ensure that the critical services such as emergency work requests are delivered.
More than 1000 calls have been made to tenants and the department is happy to report that this has been a very fruitful exercise.
Step-by-step instructions have been issued to all our tenants to facilitate payments through the online platform.
The department is also liaising with the banks to introduce new facilities for the payment of rent such as through Direct Debit.
We are also assisting our tenants with the opening of bank accounts.
The arrears team has been very diligent in continuing their operations to ensure tenants to do not fall further into arrears and to assist them as much as possible should they encounter financial hardship during this time.
The Senior Management Team has liaised with our Tenants Associations to provide support.
We have been able to convene the relevant meetings using virtual platforms.
Other weekly meetings with tenants and third parties are still ongoing via conference call.
This takes social distancing requirements into account.
The department together with the Housing Works Agency have been actively trying to curtail the spread of COVID-19 to Senior Citizens.
Our efforts have concentrated mainly in our pensioner accommodation.
This is where many of the most vulnerable in our society are located.
The assistance to senior citizen accommodation includes:
- providing the daily delivery of the Gibraltar Chronicle and the Panorama;
- the installation/maintenance of hand sanitisers,
- the daily removal and disposal of household refuse from outside the flats,
- daily cleaning of all common areas such as lifts, handrails and door handles,
- the delivery of GADS food within the blocks, and
- the restriction of visitors to the blocks.
The Housing Works Agency has also given assistance to the Nightingale Hospital by providing the flooring and the bed dividers.
We continue to take precautions by:
- Restricting visits only for essential reasons and preferably for these to be conducted at a social distance from outside the flat;
- All social gatherings such as bingos and yoga have been cancelled.
We are in constant communication with the elderly in these flats.
My office has been calling them regularly to make sure that their needs are addressed.
We also provide them with any documents required by other parts of the public service.
Anything delivered to the elderly is now sanitised.
There were two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our Pensioner Flats.
Both are now fully recovered.
The department has been working closely with the Gibraltar Health Authority to allow them to provide the maximum number of beds.
We have also worked with the Care Agency in the relocation of tenants when required.
We have worked with the Ministry of Equality too.
The Housing Department would like to remind all tenants of all our estates to practice good hygiene.
It is important to follow the guidelines being issued daily by the Civil Contingency Office.
A programme to disinfect Housing Estates has been coordinated and rolled out together with the Ministry of Environment.
We understand that the precautionary measures being taken will place a strain on families and friends.
Tenants are eager to preserve contact with their loved ones.
But at this time we are also increasingly concerned about their wellbeing.
We are following expert advice regarding the matter at hand.
There are other ways to stay in touch without putting anyone at risk.
I know that many of you are keeping in touch by telephone, video conferencing and through social media platforms.
The staff at my office have also been calling all tenants over the age of 70 in all our housing estates.
We want to make sure that they do not feel disconnected or isolated and to check whether they need anything.
We would like to thank all our tenants for their patience during this very difficult time.
I am also the Minister for the Technical Services Department.
Both our Highways and Infrastructure Sections are fully resilient to deal with all emergencies and with essential maintenance which may arise during this time.
There are also on-call crews on stand-by.
Their role is to deal with any emergencies on a 24 hour basis seven days a week.
Our Engineering and Design Section continues to work on essential Government projects.
This has included the preparation of the drive through sampling facility at Rooke which is now fully operational.
In addition our Geographical and Information System co-coordinator is working closely with the COVID Civil Contingency team to develop GPS maps of Gibraltar.
These maps will include the addresses of our elderly and vulnerable.
They will be used to assist with the ongoing efforts to protect and help those individuals.
Technical Services has also released members of staff to other Government Departments to assist with more critical matters during these difficult times.
Gibraltar Sports and Leisure Authority
I will now say a few words about the Sports and Leisure Authority.
Since the outbreak of the Covid19 pandemic, the Bayside Sport Complex and the GSLA Swimming Pool have both been closed.
They are now part of the Civil Contingencies’ plan and the wider Covid19 strategy.
The staff at GSLA have been very busy in various areas assisting Civil Contingencies making sure facilities are ready and up and running when required.
Some members of the team are working from home.
This ensures that administrative tasks continue on a daily basis.
Others attend their workstations to process essential documentation when needed.
Facilities are also inspected on a daily basis to ensure that all is well.
The majority of the staff complement have been redeployed to different places.
Eleven undertook initial training and have now spent the better part of five weeks in the different Hospital Call Centres.
They are working shifts, operating telephone lines and dealing with queries from the general public.
Six others are part of the team that is delivering goods and supplies to those over 70 and to those vulnerable members of the community.
Some staff members are working from the Training Centre undertaking other key roles.
The GSLA’s facilities staff have played an integral part in setting up a temporary hostel at the Garrison Gymnasium.
This was converted in conjunction, with Europa FC, the Royal Gibraltar Police and the Social Services Department.
Others have donated meals.
A team led by the Sports Development Unit is on standby to assist teachers in providing the children of essential workers with a varied set of activities.
Given that the number of children attending schools is relatively low, this same team has for the last few weeks provided structured physical activity to those vulnerable children in care.
These activities have provided a much needed outlet from the lockdown measures for those children.
The feedback has been so positive that initial discussions have already taken place about continuing these activities in some manner when normality returns.
The Sports Development Team, in conjunction with the Physical Activities Association for Mature Older Adults and GBC, have recorded a series of exercise sessions for seniors.
These can be practiced in the comfort of their own homes.
These new sessions are already available on GBC on a daily basis.
Filming of further videos will take place next week.
These will primarily be aimed at seniors over 70, who might struggle with the sessions already on offer.
GSLA have also been involved in manning the entrances to the four main pensioner estates and assisting with the delivery of goods to the tenants residing within those blocks.
Finally, in relation to the GSLA, the staff may also be deployed during the “Golden Hour” in order to assist the elderly.
King’s Bastion Leisure Centre
The entirety of the King’s Bastion Leisure Centre has been closed since the Covid pandemic was announced.
The administration staff are currently working from home.
Other employees of KBLC have been deployed to assist at the Field Hospital and in other Covid related projects.
The Gibraltar Youth Service during this difficult Covid period have continued to undertake their daily activities via the online platform “Zoom” offering Virtual Youth Work to young people in our community.
All youth club activities, such as the Joyful Riot Choir, the LGBTQ+ group and the Mingle, (a specialist project for young adults with mild learning difficulties ages 18-30) have taken the opportunity to use this virtual platform to continue their communication with existing and prospective members.
I personally met with a group of young people during a virtual session recently where all those virtually connected shared their experiences of being in lockdown.
Zoom Virtual Youth Work will continue as a way of keeping in touch with young people in the community.
If you want more information on this it can be found on www.youth.gi
The Youth Service is also supporting the Care Agency.
Laguna, Dolphins and Plater Youth Clubs have been opened to accommodate a resting and meeting place for all residential care workers who support the elderly and vulnerable in our community.
Various experienced youth workers have also been deployed to assist with vulnerable children and those displaying challenging behaviour.
The Youth Service has purchased 6 computer tablets for some of their service users who do not have access to one during this crisis.
This will assist them in joining the virtual youth activity on offer.
It will also allow them to follow any educational links provided by the Department of Education.
In addition, these service users will benefit from the Civil Contingency Office’s tablet donation appeal.
I would like to thank Medicare (Gib) for the 24 IPads and 9 Samsung Tablets.
Gibtelecom -for 20 IPad Minis.
An Anonymous donor – for 2 IPads.
And Gadget Station for the Ten heavy duty Ipad covers.
I would like to take this opportunity of thanking all members of my Ministry and the relevant departments I am responsible for, whether working from their workstation or working from home for their continuous support and providing an excellent service throughout, as always, especially during these difficult times.
You have all worked tirelessly and under pressure and have acted in a positive, proactive and professional manner. For this, I am truly proud and grateful.