Gibraltar has announced further Covid-19 restrictions to begin at midnight tonight. In a statement to parliament, chief minister Fabian Picardo explained that numbers of active cases are rising exponentially: from 47 active cases on 10 December to 60 on 15th, 71 the following day and 202 today. 1,365 people are currently in self-isolation, compared with 222 six days ago.
Picardo said that in view of the coronavirus figures, the government has to act decisively “in spite of, and because of” the Christmas period. From midnight, masks must be worn in every public place in Gibraltar, and all catering establishments except takeaways must close until 11 January, possibly longer.
Shops may remain open, but must enforce the same controls as when Gibraltar began to come out of lockdown earlier this year, with limits on numbers inside, hand sanitiser etc. All gymnasiums must close from tomorrow.
Socialising in family homes should be restricted to 3 households. This is “very strong advice”, not the law, because the government will not put the police in the position where they have to try to ascertain whether people are from the same household or not. However, the chief minister was very insistent that people should comply.
The government will not lock down the over-70s, but Picardo urged them to act as if they were locked down, saying the authorities would bring them what they need. “Do not go to relatives for Christmas lunch; stay home; it may be lonely but it is far lonelier in a coffin” he said.
He also urged people not to attend religious services, saying the government is working with the different religious leaders to transmit them online and on TV.
Schools, which closed two days earlier than planned, will not reopen until 7 January or possibly 11th or a week or two later, depending on how the virus evolves. Picardo urged people to work from home if they possibly can and not to hold parties with work colleagues.
Gibraltar is working on maintaining air links with the UK, with incoming passengers either needing a negative test from London or taking one at the airport upon arrival.
Although the UK announced earlier today that cases of the new coronavirus strain have been detected in Gibraltar, and the Spanish government saying it would step up controls at the border, Picardo said that although one case from November did appear to be this new strain, that vector had been shut down and it is not possible to say with certainty that it is in Gibraltar in force.
He did, however, say that old and new strains of the virus had found an ally: “apathy and irresponsibility” among the public. While most people were complying with the regulations, a “very few” are not. “They have thrown caution to the wind and have passed the virus to others”. Most people may be mildly affected, he said, but in a few cases the illness was very serious and some may die.
Picardo went on to explain that last Friday, seeing how the figures were rising, the government had to enforce new measures if another complete lockdown were to be avoided. With only a few hours’ notice, bars and restaurants were told they must close at 7pm until further notice, and consumption of alcohol in public was also banned after that time. Establishments which provide takeaways and home delivery services were able to do so.
Picardo stressed that they enforced these measures “with a very heavy heart” but said there was no alternative. He did, however, have very strong words for those who deliberately failed to comply, saying those establishments will not receive compensation for this new measure, unlike those who did follow the new rule.
Picardo was obviously very tense throughout this statement, reiterating that these measures “are the last thing I want to say”, but stressing that the government has no alternative. “We were beginning to see a faint glimmer of hope with the new vaccine,” he said, but the evolution of the coronavirus in the UK and EU has plunged everyone into a new crisis.
The chief minister will be holding a further press conference on 27 December at 4pm.