The Next Step

Jonathan Sacramento – Monday 18th May

Today marks a significant step forward in Gibraltar’s plan to manage life alongside the global pandemic.

All over the world – even in the UK which is still reporting more than three and a half thousand new cases of the virus per day, governments are publishing their unlock plans.

In the global context, Gibraltar is well placed to enter its next phase. There are only two active cases, the Covid wards are empty, and most importantly, there have been no deaths.

This is a pivotal and critical moment. As from today, new regulations will come into effect allowing gatherings of no more than 12 people. As from Thursday, the general lockdown regulations for both under 70s and over 70s will be repealed.

The last two months of lockdown have been important for two reasons: the first is an obvious one. It’s brought down the number of active cases in the community from 63 (at its peak on the 9th April) to just two. The second is a far subtler reason, but equally significant. Two months of lockdown does something to a person. It instills a sense of urgency and seriousness. It creates a new mindset, and prepares the community for a new reality when people are released from the confinement of their homes.

The key question is whether this will be enough to prepare people to enter this dangerous new world. The success of the unlock plan will hinge on responsibility. The number of confirmed cases two weeks from now will depend on whether the lockdown phase has sufficiently ingrained the social distancing mantra into the national psyche.

Already there is some anecdotal evidence that it hasn’t quite filtered through to everyone. Many restaurants are already fully booked up (at 50% capacity) as from the 1st June (the unlock date for the catering industry). Main Street on Saturday mornings is looking busy, albeit not quite the same as it was before the pandemic. And beaches… well. You know.

Even by Gibraltar’s conservative standards of Covid management Government’s Unlock the Rock document is a cautious, well-planned road-map. This isn’t my view; the plan has been met with general approval by the GSD Opposition and Together Gibraltar, as well as the members of the CELAC committee which brings together representative organisations.

But perhaps the wisest element of the Government’s strategy is the pause for reflection between phases, which will allow the Department of Public health time to monitor how the introduction of each measure has had an impact on the number of cases.

And things might be subject to change if we see a sudden spike. The Chief Minister has already indicated this is a fluid strategy which will need to be tweaked if the covid-stat barometer starts to swing in an unwelcome direction.

It cannot be any other way.