Zero Cases – Restrictions Lifted
Chief Minister’s Script: COVID-19 Press Conference
Good afternoon and welcome to this live press conference from No 6 Convent Place.
This afternoon it is my pleasure to be joined by the Minister for Health, the Honourable Samantha Sacramento.
We have convened this press conference to inform you of the latest statistics involving the COVID-19 Pandemic in our community and to deal with the further relaxation of restrictions which we will now be able progress with.
I will also address some of the business support aspects which will continue despite the lifting of some of the restrictions.
My dear fellow Gibraltarians, I am today finally delighted to be able to tell you that there are no active cases of COVID-19 in Gibraltar’s resident population.
It is the first time since the 22nd of July last year that we can make that announcement.
Gibraltar’s resident population is finally COVID free.
There are two active cases in non-residents, who are of course, outside of Gibraltar.
And there are also two active cases in visitors who have been detected entering Gibraltar as COVID cases and who are in isolation in Gibraltar.
Gibraltar is otherwise, therefore, COVID free for the first time in 9 long months.
Thank you to all of those who have been a part of the work to achieve this.
And thank you also to every resident who has complied with our very reluctant imposition of restrictions as we have fought this virus.
Importantly, these numbers reflect the 1,091 tests carried out yesterday which include the testing of all those persons who attended the Boxing event on the 27th March.
That was an event organized by third parties but which involved the deployment of a pilot public health measure to seek to ensure a safe system of organization for all attendees.
Similar criteria applied to the recent international football match will provide post-event testing data later this week.
Additionally, today, St Bernard’s Hospital remains entirely free of COVID patients, both in its general COVID ward and in its Critical Care Unit.
Gibraltar’s Hospital has therefore remained COVID free now from the 21st March, a little over two weeks ago.
This is no doubt due to the excellent support we have had from the United Kingdom on supply of vaccines and the brilliant roll-out of our vaccination programme by the GHA.
Minister Sacramento will say a little more on our continuing vaccination programme and the numbers of vaccinations administered in a moment.
Now, given the absence of active cases in our community, but mindful of the rising numbers of infections in Europe, our gradual and prudent relaxation of restrictions can happily continue.
But we will continue only carefully and prudently.
We will ensure that our decisions today are not driven by populism or political expediency, but by science and data.
Because we all want to conclude Operation Freedom with the relaxation of restrictions in full.
But as we do so, we must be responsible in achieving that return to our hard fought constitutional freedoms so that we can all benefit from them in a sustainable way.
We do not want to completely open up today in order to have to lock down again tomorrow.
I have said throughout the past year that we would not maintain restrictions on civil liberties however for a moment longer than is necessary.
We consider our constitutional freedoms sacred.
And we have carefully balanced those freedoms against the public health advice to enable us to protect life above all else.
Today, we have to be mindful that we are COVID free in Gibraltar but also that we are seeing a surge in most of the rest of Europe.
It is in this context that the remaining restrictions were considered yesterday by the Civil Contingencies Strategic Coordinating Group that is Chaired by Minister Sacramento and includes health and public health professionals.
That committee still meets weekly in the background to ensure we remain vigilant in keeping COVID-19 at bay.
Based on the advice of the Civil Contingencies COVID SCG, I am today pleased to be able to make the following announcements.
Firstly, it is no longer deemed necessary to continue with any numerical restrictions on the numbers of persons who can gather in public beyond the 16th of this month when the current regulations will lapse.
The right of freedom of assembly, which is a constitutional right, will once again be unencumbered by restrictions in Gibraltar.
Going forward, any events that are organised in public places will be subject to the same rules that were in place before the pandemic.
That means that events will require the usual notification and permits and for now, may also require public health advice and some additional requirements.
For example, it is likely that large events will require a negative COVID test for those participating.
This arises from the advice provided to the Government that it is the continued surveillance of the presence or absence of the virus in our community that will keep our continued, prudent, return to socialising possible.
In that respect, it is important to note that test, trace and isolate will remain as crucial now as it was in the earlier periods in this pandemic.
Please therefore continue cooperating with our contact tracing bureau if they are in touch with you.
I know that socialising is something that as a community we consider to be precious too.
Since we reopened restaurants on the 1st of March we have been very cautious as to how we have enabled this freedom.
The establishments have had to comply with a lot of restrictions in order to make this possible. And I recognise the support that we have had from our catering community.
We are now able to announce further relaxations of restrictions applicable to catering establishments.
As from next Monday, we will no longer have restrictions on the numbers of people who may sit together at a table in a catering establishment.
All catering permit holders will receive public health advice through the Office of Civil Contingencies on the measures that will continue to remain in place.
The contact tracing requirement in restaurants will remain, as this is the most crucial function to enable us to retain our normality in the event that there is a case of COVID reported in a group at a restaurant table.
It is for this reason that it is important that this contact tracing information is always still provided.
Additionally, and also as from Monday, people who have been fully vaccinated and identified as contacts, will be deemed casual contacts and will no longer be required to self-isolate so long as they have been fully vaccinated.
Moreover, already to date, we have already relaxed our requirement to wear masks considerably.
And so today, these restrictions will now also be further relaxed and masks will NO LONGER be required to be worn in any outside public place.
Whereas masks will no longer be required inside the majority of places, they will still continue to be required inside retail shops and on public transport only.
These are enclosed areas likely to visited by people who are not vaccinated.
Importantly, there will no longer be a requirement for patrons to wear masks inside restaurants, gyms and other internal spaces.
Also equally importantly, as from tomorrow, there will be no longer a requirement for staff working inside catering establishments to wear a double mask.
Catering staff will be required to wear only a single mask for now.
As from the 1st of May we expect that every catering member of staff who has received a double dose of vaccination will be able to dispense with the wearing of a mask.
The wearing of masks in schools will also continue for now, but if figures remain as they are, they are also likely to be removed in coming weeks.
We will, of course however, consult with the Teacher’s Union in this respect before a final decision is made on masks in schools.
The announcements I am making today I know will please many people.
They certainly are a source of great joy for my colleagues in Government and for me as Chief Minister.
But I know that many businesses will still be suffering considerably from the absence of visitors to Gibraltar.
Today we have seen the announcement of even more routes to Gibraltar from the United Kingdom.
We now have more routes than ever from the UK.
Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, London City, Manchester,
Birmingham, Bristol, Southampton and Edinburgh.
The route from City Airport announced today will be welcomed by all, no doubt.
But I know that many of our businesses are still in crisis when they are dependent on the tourist and visitor trade generally.
The President of the Chamber of Commerce has been incessantly lobbying the Government to ensure that we continue to assist such of its members through this still difficult period.
The Government will today therefore also confirm the continuation of our support packages over the second quarter of 2021.
Businesses that are currently participating in the BEAT scheme will receive the following percentages of support based on the average payment that they received in April and May of last year:
30% to be paid for April 2021;
20% to be paid for May 2021; and
a final payment of 10% to be paid for June 2021.
The above payments will be made to all participating businesses, save for those sectors that continue to be more heavily affected by the travel restrictions imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Participating businesses from those heavily affected sectors will receive ADDITIONAL tailored financial support that will be reviewed on a month-by-month basis.
This tailored support is also expected to end on 30 June but only if matters progress as we would all wish.
I know that no business wants to continue to receive payments from Government in lieu of the re-establishment of our previous levels of trade.
As has been the case to date, all BEAT payments will be made automatically to participating businesses.
Participating businesses do not need to take any action in order to receive these BEAT grant payments.
These BEAT measures will continue alongside the following measures, that will also remain in place:
- A 100% waiver of payment of rates for the wholesale, retail, hotel, bar & restaurant sectors between 1 April 2021 and 30 June 2021;
- For all other sectors an additional 25% early rates payment discount between 1 April 2021 and 30 June 2021 (except for supermarkets and pharmacies);
- A continued waiver of rates for void properties;
- No rental increases to Government commercial tenants between 1 April 2021 and 30 June 2021;
- The continuation of the import duty waiver scheme for businesses extended to 30 April 2021 and to be reviewed again on a monthly basis;
- The continued waiver of work permit and registration and administrative fees which is extended to 30 June 2021;
- The continued moratorium on Insolvency claims which will also be extended for the same period; and finally
- The extension of the Bank Guarantee Scheme to enable lending to COVID related distressed businesses to the 30 June 2021.
My dear friends, we have much to celebrate.
But we have a responsibility also to remember those who we have lost along this path.
We have a responsibility to honour those who have led us through this darkness and helped supply our precious vaccines.
And we have a concomitant responsibility to be prudent as we enjoy the return of the freedoms we had so long taken for granted.
We must always be mindful that COVID continues to lurk amongst us.
And that all progress we make in lifting restrictions today must be consolidated before we seek to go even further.
Additionally, we must be grateful for the magnificent work of our health and public health professionals in the roll out of a vaccination programme that has enabled us to reach this pass.
As ever, I look forward to answering questions from members of the press here at No6 Convent Place today.
But before that, it is my pleasure to cede the floor to the Minister for Health who has so brilliantly led the ministerial effort through the past, harrowing, six months.