New COVID Measures Should be Consistent & Proportionate
28 October 2020
Measures introduced to combat the COVID19 pandemic should be consistent, justified and proportionate. As is known the GSD has been supportive of action to deal with the COVID threat from the outset suggesting a comprehensive and robust testing and contact tracing programme when at the time the Government were sceptical about it and the public health advice the Public Health Director was giving was that contact tracing should be abandoned in Gibraltar. Public health advice has been changing and recommendations carry weight but there are no panaceas. At the end there has to be a political judgment call based on the evidence and ensuring that objectives are reasonably and consistently achieved.
The Leader of the Opposition Keith Azopardi said:
“For example the Chief Minister said yesterday that because there had been an increase of 71 positive cases in a week [20-27 October] and low mask wearing it was now necessary to introduce compulsory mask wearing in certain areas. But that ignores the fact that in the previous seven days [13-20 October] there had been an increase of 109 cases and that therefore there had been a 35% decrease in new cases compared to the previous week even when there was no compulsory mask use in most of the town area. So if the trend is on the decrease why now and citing public health advice? Why has the public health advice changed from the 20 October when he announced 31 new positives in one day. Yesterday there were 9 new positives and today there have only been three new positives.
It is also a fact that the COVID measures announced since the Spring had successfully stemmed the tide to the point that with no compulsory mask wearing, we were able to get to zero cases several times in the early summer. That effort relied on discipline and voluntary cooperation of people. In very large measure the majority of people are still cooperating in that effort without the need for compulsion.
The GSD is not going to argue against public health advice given to the Government which it has not seen. It should be made public so people can understand the basis of the changing public health advice and why this is justified in this way when there are hardly large crowds in Line Wall, Engineer Lane or Governor’s Street. Additionally, if the objective is to deal with people hotspots then the Government could deal with those that do exist more decisively. Over the last few weeks videos have gone viral of the Chatham Counterguard area and conglomerations of people there with little respect for social distancing. To encourage that the Government should reverse the pedestrianisation of Chatham Counterguard on a temporary basis till the end of the pandemic. Or is it that it does not wish to do so because that pedestrianisation idea is a pet project?
Maintaining the airbridge with the UK without the need to quarantine on arrival in the UK is very important and we support measures introduced to ensure this is kept open. But here again there is a need for consistency and fairness in identified objectives. The Chief Minister spoke of looking at the introduction of testing when flying out and offering rapid but non-compulsory testing on disembarkation or the alternative [if the test is refused on arrival] of a [possible] quarantine. Our students should not be treated differently. Last week the Government announced that students had to take a compulsory test on arrival, quarantine for 5 days and then take another test. At the time they were being singled out as no-one else arriving into Gibraltar by air or via the land frontier was to be tested despite the fact that the UK and Spain are also COVID hot-spots. We are not suggesting there should be compulsory testing for every person entering Gibraltar but the scheme needs to be fair. There is no reason that students should not be given a free rapid test on arrival which would by-pass the need for any quarantine if negative – in the same way as may be offered to other passengers.
There is undoubtedly a need to control the rise in COVID cases through proportionate and consistently applied measures. There has been an increase in cases in many places in Europe which no doubt is also a contributory factor to the flow of virus cases. The Chief Minister used language yesterday that the measures he announced were necessary to avoid a further lockdown or a “curfew.” That language was unjustified on the present state of things. We do not know why the Chief Minister used the word “curfew” days after the Spanish Government used the same term in introducing an overnight curfew there.
In Spring one of the key reasons for the lockdown was the need to give time to the Health Service to prepare to deal with large numbers of cases that could strain its resources. The GHA is now ready and has a nightingale facility which can quickly be mobilised. The principal reason why we should contemplate something as radical as a further lockdown now is a surge in cases that sees many hospitalisations and puts strain on the health service. Thankfully that is not the case now and hopefully will never be.
The relatively low level of hospitalisations has been maintained – even now. If things were to change and the GHA needed assistance again then, of course, there should be more radical measures contemplated. But we are far removed from that scenario today. We appreciate that this is a fast-moving panorama but it is no different to the last few months and matters can be kept in active review.”
On the issue of students Shadow Education Minister Edwin Reyes said:
“If a student flies out on 20th December, which is the earliest possible date in order to be home and celebrate Christmas with their families, then by having to quarantine for five days they may be missing Christmas with some of their family which is the whole purpose of their short visit back home. This situation simply adds more stress and anxiety upon students and parents alike who this term have already suffered the consequences of delays in the processing of grants and which resulted in placing many families through financial difficulties. The application of the rules announced last week was inconsistent already as the student quarantine rules apply to just scholarship holders and not any other student arriving in Gibraltar.
There are hundreds of students studying in the United Kingdom and if on Public Health grounds certain restrictions are to be imposed upon their return home, then any necessary regulations must be applied to them in the same way as all other persons coming into Gibraltar from the same point of origin. The Covid19 virus carries possible potential consequences for all, it does not act differently upon Students who happen to be Gibraltar Government scholarship beneficiaries. The introduction of any restrictive regulations must be rational, fair and also based upon common sense, it should not be selective only upon students.”