The Hon Albert Isola MP, Minister for Digital and Financial Services
In these past months, Gibraltar has like many other countries around the world, taken swift and comprehensive action to implement draconian measures aimed at reducing the impact of COVID-19 on our citizens and economy, and in particular shielding our senior citizens. Having made the decision to close non-essential businesses on March 8th, we implemented emergency measures to support our business community and their employees with the impact of the crisis. By doing this we have sought to maintain the foundations of a post COVID-19 economy in which we hope to return to robust economic health as soon as possible.
Government moved swiftly to introduce immediate measures to support businesses for Q2 of 2020 including waiving/deferring rents, rates, tax, social insurance, regulatory fees and utility costs. This enabled businesses reeling from the Covid shock to manage their firms in the knowledge that this support was available to them. Shortly after the introduction of these measures, Government then announced and immediately implemented the BEAT (Business & Employee Assistance Terms) COVID-19 Scheme that funded salaries for all inactive employees in the relevant sectors. Over £6million was paid in the first month of the scheme for April 2020.
In seeking to protect the community from the Covid emergency, Government quickly and effectively introduced a draconian lockdown, including the closure of most retail outlets, including all bars and restaurants and restricting the freedom of movement of all citizens. The measures received widespread support and were effective in preventing the spread of the virus. Gibraltar has had zero deaths and currently three residents have the infection and are isolating at home.
The community rallied, with over 1000 volunteers stepping up to assist in the care provided to our citizens and especially for our shielded senior citizens to whom we delivered food, medical supplies and importantly care and support. Our Health Authority was showered with donations from local firms and individuals who have contributed some £2million to the Covid fund. The Health Authority developed new facilities including a new and fully fitted field hospital with some 240 beds, support nurses brought in from the United Kingdom and adequate provision of PPE and all necessary medical equipment, including further ventilators and monitoring equipment. Today, we have some 370 empty hospital beds, ready and waiting should they be needed.
Every day for two full months, the Government hosted a televised press conference and produced data daily on the exact impact of Covid on our community. The messaging was open and transparent engendering the trust of our people. The Health Authority and Public Health Director also participated in these press conferences taking direct questions from the media.
Gibraltar’s business community have acknowledged that they could not have asked for more. As they seek to protect their staff, clients and businesses, Government has worked with them every step of the way. All have welcomed this open and direct approach, as they have been able to make decisions based on accurate and real time information.
As the Chief Minister launched Gibraltar’s plans to ease the lockdown, he set out the long-term plan clearly in his “UNLOCK THE ROCK” document, the gradual and phased approach to the return to normality for businesses and citizens alike. The “new” normal will be anything but normal.
Work has already begun with the launch of TASK FORCE FUTURE to map out Gibraltar’s emergence from the pandemic. This is a consolidated strategy for Gibraltar to mark out its intended approach to business in all areas that I am working on together with my colleagues Minister Daryanani and Minister Licudi. The private sector, Government and our regulators are all sitting around the table thinking and innovating for our future; an exciting and rewarding project that demonstrates why businesses want to be based here.