One Month into lockdown - the dangers of complacency and the mantle of heroism

Jonathan Sacramento – Friday 24th April

For medical analysts and epidemiologists Gibraltar could be used as almost a perfect example of how a lockdown can shut down the spread of Covid-19. One month after the Government took the difficult decision to restrict people’s personal freedoms, the steady escalation of confirmed Covid cases has been cut off to a trickle. Just four active cases, not a single hospital bed in use, no deaths, no-one on a ventilator.

Anxieties about deaths and an overloaded GHA have eased. Tense shoulders have relaxed. Sighs of relief everywhere. For now.

The big concern is what comes next.

The GHA has not relaxed. If anything, preparations have been ramped up with live exercises, increased bed capacity, more ventilators, and intensive further testing for frontliners.

It’s only natural that people’s minds now turn to relaxing the restrictions. But here’s where the danger lurks.

In Thursday’s press conference, the Chief Minister warned that no-one should think we have beaten the virus, and issued a stark warning for ‘the bravest among us’ that if you break the restrictions, you could be dead within 21 days.

And in a somewhat unusual series of late-night tweets, the Director of Public Health, Sohail Bhatti, said he had a ‘lump in his throat’ warning the most dangerous times lie ahead. When one of the most senior medical professionals at the core of Gibraltar’s strategy to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic tells you he is ‘worried’, it should send alarm bells rippling through the community about the dangers of complacency.

Yes the virus has been contained for now, but it can come back very quickly. It only takes one person for it to spread like wildfire if we let down our guard.

That’s why the proposed release measures will have to be extremely conservative, and will be combined with a series of monitoring regimes to protect the frontline.

And on that note…

Every night we applaud the emergency services. They have stepped up to unprecedented levels to prepare Gibraltar for the worst-case scenario and rightly deserve our praise.

But I read a rather interesting point of view the other day from author and mental health campaigner Matt Haig. He said “Hero is a dangerous word. It carries a lot of weight… Let’s demand that they have the right kit, in the right quantity… I don’t want heroes. I want health workers to stay alive.”

The context is important. Matt writes in the UK where over 100 NHS staff, including doctors and nurses, have died from Covid-19 after coming into contact with infected patients, and didn’t have access to Personal Protective Equipment. Two British doctors, Dr Meenal Viz from Gibraltar and her husband, have launched a legal challenge against the UK government over what they say is a lack of protective kit and unclear guidance on when and how it should be used.

In Gibraltar there is less concern among GHA staff about PPE supplies and their level of exposure, but the sentiment about the weight of the ‘hero’ label (with the caveat of course that it is clearly meant with the best of intentions) is a valuable one to keep in mind.