However, he emphasised Gibraltar’s meticulous preparations for a hard Brexit left it well-prepared for the unexpected circumstances which it now faces. The escalating pandemic is starting to have an impact on the Rock, with the numbers of people crossing the border into the British overseas territory from Spain significantly reduced this morning, according to eyewitness reports. And in a sombre statement broadcast live on local television, Mr Picardo made it clear how seriously he was taking the threat posed by COVID-19.
Do not travel to Spain unless it is absolutely necessary
He said: “Do not travel to Spain unless it is absolutely necessary.
“I appreciate some of you have homes there, but avoid travel to Spain entirely unless it is absolutely necessary.
“If you do, your reasons for travelling to Spain must in keeping with the rules governing the State of Emergency declared in that country.”
In Gibraltar itself, Mr Picardo said there were currently two active cases, with one other person having recovered. In addition, the authorities have sent off 91 samples so, of which it was awaiting 39 results.
In an acknowledgement of more stringent restrictions further down the line, he added: “And remember that this is only the beginning and more restrictive measures may be advised in future, both in Spain and in Gibraltar.”
Gibraltar, located on the southern tip of the Spanish mainland, has a population of 33,000, making it one of the most densely populated territories in the world.
In addition, an estimated 15,000 people cross daily for work, supplying half the workforce, and it is these people who are likely to be impacted most directly.
In accordance with stringent new controls confirmed by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez – whose own wife, Maria Begona Gomez Fernandez – has tested positive for the virus, Spain’s 47 million population is required to stay in their homes, except to collect essential supplies and medicines, or to go to work.
While the measures in themselves do not in themselves preclude people from heading to Gibraltar to do their jobs, a source told Express.co.uk Spanish border guards were telling people entering the Rock they would need relevant documents before being permitted re-enter Spain.
In addition, the lockdown means Gibraltarian cars and pedestrians are currently being prevented from entering Spain to go shopping or for lunch.
The source said increasing numbers of people were now working from home, adding: “Today, numbers entering Gibraltar were definitely much reduced compared with a normal day but there were no problems at the frontier.”
Mr Picardo unveiled various measures aimed at protecting the Rock’s people, and its economy, as much as possible, including waiving all commercial rates for businesses in the hospitality, leisure, distributive and catering sector for the second quarter of 2020.
He explained: “Preparing for an expected hard Brexit that has not yet materialised has prepared us well for these unexpected circumstances.
“There is no vaccine yet for the virus, nor for the economy.
“But if necessary, we will react by providing further liquidity for our businesses in future.”
He added: “I want to be clear with ALL our citizens, that given the patterns we have seen in other countries, whatever we do, vulnerable people will die of this virus.
“We will not be able to stop that. We cannot stop the wind and we cannot stop the tide.
“The government cannot stop this virus. Pretending to do so would be untrue and I will not lie to you.
“We are at war with a hidden killer that preys on our elderly and most vulnerable.
“There is no earthly power that can presently stop it.
“But we are taking measures to slow it down.
“Avoiding spikes in infection will mean we have more resources when needed to treat people.”
Speaking yesterday Juanma Moreno Bonilla, the president of the Junta de Andalucia, called on the Spanish Government to prepare a plan to control Spain’s external frontiers – likewise floating the possibility they could be closed altogether.
He said: “One of the issues I’ve raised is the need to start preparing a frontier plan, against the likelihood that Spain will have to start taking measures to carry out health checks at out frontier crossings, or even order them to be closed.
“If we are restricting the day-to-day activities of our citizens, if we’re reducing free movement to the bare essentials, we cannot allow uncontrolled access from third countries.
“That’s why it’s very important to control our external borders.”
The prospect of the border being closed looks increasingly likely, with Spain’s Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska confirming today the country would only allow Spanish residents, diplomats and cross-border workers into the country apart from in exceptional circumstances.
Spain is the second-worst hit country in Europe in terms of COVID-19 cases after Italy, with 9,428 cases, and 335 deaths.
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