The Government of Gibraltar yesterday published its ‘Unlock the Rock’ plan for lifting restrictions and restart the economy.  It is the first report produced by HMGOG’s Taskforce Restart and Recover and runs to 75 pages covering all aspects of life in Gibraltar and how they will progressively return to whatever ‘normal’ looks like by the end of the process.

The report strikes a balance between optimism and caution, making clear that progressing towards a state of ‘Rock Unlocked’ is unlikely to be as straightforward as one would hope.  It cautions that there is a ‘probability’ that as we start to release elements of social and economic activity from the constraints of the lockdown, we are going to see the number of cases in Gibraltar rise.  With only 148 cases confirmed so far and, mercifully, no deaths from Covid-19 in Gibraltar, it is likely that what we have seen of the virus in Gibraltar is a mere cluster of cases.  For that reason, caution is indeed well-advised. The progress of the virus in Gibraltar, by virtue of the nature of this community, its location and the constant flow of people into and through Gibraltar, means that we will need to be vigilant as Spain proceeds to unlock herself and, at some point in the not too distant future, the land frontier between Gibraltar and Spain returns to something resembling normality.  

The Unlock the Rock plan covers all these angles; it is the Government’s plan to lift restrictions in six phases, each phase being followed by a pause of between 2 and 3 weeks.  The reason for this is that the incubation period for Covid-19 is approximately two weeks.  By taking the steps set out in each of the phases and pausing, it is hoped that Public Health Gibraltar will be able to keep close tabs on the spread of the disease and the specific origin of cases. 

The core elements of the strategy can be summarised as follows:

  • A slow and progressive unlocking with an initial target date of 1 August 2020 for 'Rock Unlocked';
  • Despite a gradual unlocking and eventual lifting of legal restrictions on movement (due on 21 May – restrictions on freedom of association to remain for some time) we will continue to require an aggressive approach containment of Covid-19, including a continuation of the advice to 'Stay At Home' if possible, and if not, to 'Keep Your Distance'. This will also include a continued focus on good levels of personal hygiene, washing hands and cleaning surfaces regularly will be required, as will the need to avoid crowded spaces, particularly indoors;
  • Notwithstanding all of the prevention strategies, if an individual develops symptoms, a similarly aggressive approach to management of the case will be taken, to include:  a requirement to notify 111 and arrange to get tested; a requirement to self-isolate while you wait for your test result, being sure to 'Catch it, Bin it and Kill it';
  • The tracing of contacts (as defined in the Plan) will be conducted and all those considered contacts will be notified, tested and will self-isolate until test results return;
  • Given that test results are coming back largely within 48 hours and many us are now proficient at working from home, there should be a minimal impact on work continuity while test results are awaited. This of course is good for employees, employers and the economy at large;
  • On getting a negative result (currently the likely outcome), those tested can return to work and those confirmed positive will likely see the virus out at home. Those with tougher cases of Covid-19 will be reassured that the GHA has all the resources and capacity it needs to tackle a bad progression of the disease in patients.  The availability of  anti-virals (which weren’t available six weeks ago) means that we are even better able to help manage bad cases of Covid-19, despite the sad reality that this virus can kill in certain instances;

Testing therefore features heavily in the Plan.  At up to 620 tests per day at peak capacity, we will be able to test up to 2% of the population a day for active Covid-19 cases.  This will include symptomatic, targeted (health/essential workers) and random sampling of the population.

The extensive active Covid-19 testing as set out above is what will allow the Health Authorities to understand which of the measures deployed in any one of the six phases, may have given rise to an increase in cases (if it emerges). This granularity is what will allow the Gibraltar Government to ‘apply the brakes’ intelligently and calmly, to target the specific threat. Much like a modern car’s braking and stability control systems, it is hoped that a methodical and sophisticated approach to the disease with many 'sensors' gathering facts and local data, will allow us to modulate the unlocking process to keep Gibraltar firmly on the road to recovery.

Gibraltar will also see, as set out in the Plan, an ambitious plan to test the whole community with the Abbott antibody test, which confirms whether or not an individual has had Covid-19. This is crucial of course because so many will have had it asymptomatically that predictions of the potential for spread can only be based, amongst other things, on confirmed cases of the disease.  As the report sets out, the Government has been fighting blind but assures the reader that ‘we will be blind no more’. With a clearer view of how far the disease has spread, Health Authorities can calibrate their strategies to the specific virus dynamic in Gibraltar.

The six phases of the Unlock the Rock plan are set out in the image below:

This Plan is a combination of significant wins secured early on in this process, coupled with clarity of thought, honesty, and a comprehensive vision of how best to tackle this threat.  We have already won the battle for preparedness by bringing together a fully-resourced capacity for properly caring for those who develop Covid-19 and we have also settled aggressive protocols for managing the spread of the disease.

We are now taking these wins as a community, and combining them with a mix of determined optimism and healthy paranoia which, by virtue of the data gathered by our testing programmes, will engender an informed realism, just the right amount of caution, and a determination to move forward at the right pace, pulling Gibraltar out of this mire neither too quickly nor too slowly.

I believe this Plan represents, as much as any plan can, a route map for a successful navigation of this global pandemic, in Gibraltar.

Please click the link for access to the full 75-page PDF (Unlock the Rock)