Home U.K Gibraltar 'thanks Britain' as vaccination programme closes in on its target

Gibraltar 'thanks Britain' as vaccination programme closes in on its target

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Gibraltar residents discuss coronavirus vaccine rollout success

Signs reminding people to wear masks have been taken down, customers have returned to shops, bars and restaurants and everything is more normal than it has been for a long time. It reflects what life post-Covid, with a successful vaccination programme, can begin to look like. And with bars and restaurants set to reopen outdoors as lockdown eases tomorrow in the UK, Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo says having the jab will open up our country and Brits can finally experience freedom for the first time in over a year.

“My message is a simple one, ‘Get your jab when you’re offered it,’” he insists.

“And if you’ve got your jab, remain prudent and cautious, but lose your fear.

“Because we must now have faith in science and in the vaccination programme to really give us an opportunity to go back to the lives and liberties that we treasure.”

Gibraltar has inoculated most of its population with the Pfizer vaccine as opposed to the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab.

The British overseas territory, which has had 4,277 cases of Covid and 94 deaths, has now given most of its 33,701 residents the vaccine. It was supplied by the UK Government and delivered by the RAF.

In his Easter Monday speech, Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised Gibraltar.

Speaking from the government’s HQ in Main Street, Gibraltar, Mr Picardo reveals how he is grateful to Mr Johnson and the British for making Gibraltar a Covid-free country – and he said he can’t wait to welcome Britons here this summer.

Gibraltar

Gibraltar has inoculated most of its population with the Pfizer vaccine (Image: Getty )

He said: “I made it clear how grateful we were for the support that he, Dominic Raab, who visited Gibraltar recently, and Matt Hancock have given us in ensuring we got all of the vaccine that we needed.

“We would not have been able to get the vaccine ourselves. I think we managed to impress them to show the vaccine would not just sit on our shelves and we were able to get it jabbed into people’s arms.

“We spoke before the press conference and I wanted to thank Boris again and he said, ‘I might mention something about it this afternoon’ and lo and behold he did in the first minute. Now we want to repay the favour and we would love it if people from the UK could come here this summer for their holiday.”

But does Mr Picardo believe vaccines should be compulsory?

“No, I don’t think they should be,” he says. “I think there are very many legitimate reasons why companies that produce the vaccines suggest that there are people who might not be able to take it.

Fabian Picardo and writer Olivia Buxton

Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo and writer Olivia Buxton (Image: NC)

“While those categories of people exist, we have to accept that we cannot make it compulsory. The civil libertarian in me would also wish to see that vaccination is something that will happen by force of persuasion, not by any other compulsion.

“The number of people who have turned down the vaccine here is extraordinarily low and as people grow in confidence and respect the different vaccines available, they will wish to have it.

“At the beginning of the programme a lot of people in Gibraltar were saying to me, ‘Well, I don’t know I’m not sure’.

“But I think the euphoria of seeing the RAF fly the vaccines in, almost like the Dambusters, to stop Covid, and the enthusiasm also for ‘Operation Freedom’ as we have been calling it here, with bars and restaurants opening up, has been catching.

“We’re looking forward to what you see today. A spring of hope and a spring that hopefully is lighting the way to a summer, which is as close to normal as we’ve had in the past two years.”

The Prime Minister

The Prime Minister praised Gibraltar in his Easter Monday speech (Image: Getty )

Mr Picardo is proud that Gibraltar’s bars and restaurants can stay open until 2am and masks do not have to be worn.

And while Mr Johnson looks set to press ahead with the controversial Covid passport plan, there is no request for any vaccine passport to be shown when people go out here in the shops, bars and restaurants.

Instead, residents who have been given two jabs have been issued with a credit card-sized vaccination certificate.

Backing the Sunday Express Protect Our Freedoms campaign, Mr Picardo says: “There should be an alternative to the vaccine passport. For example, pregnant women are not inoculated, people who might have anaphylactic issues, so an alternative is showing a negative test. But the negative test means having something stuck up your nose every time you want to do something. What’s more invasive?

“But as long as you have the freedom to do one or the other. The whole reason is to try and protect you from having a disease which could cause you a serious problem.”

Gibraltar

The British overseas territory has now given most of its 33,701 residents the vaccine (Image: Getty )

Health Minister Samantha Sacramento, speaking at Gibraltar’s only civilian general hospital St Bernard’s, which has had no Covid cases for over two weeks, insists a vaccine passport is not necessary.

“We are not asking people to produce evidence because we know that so many people have had it,” she says.

“The dynamic here is different because our population immunity now is so high, because the vaccination take-ups have been so high, so that element of discrimination isn’t going to kick in.

“The only situation where we’re asking people to provide evidence of immunisation is, for the time being, when they visit people in hospitals and care homes.”

With the UK Government set to roll out sporting pilot events, Gibraltar has already hosted the first fully-vaccinated sporting fixture in the world – a sold-out boxing bout that saw British heavyweight Dillian Whyte beat Russia’s Alexander Povetkin in front of 500 fans.

While Gibraltar’s World Cup qualifier clash against the Netherlands was watched by 600 spectators able to enter Victoria Stadium if they had received their two vaccine doses and tested negative for coronavirus the day of the match.

At the moment, those flying to Gibraltar from Britain, need proof of a PCR test or an online booking for a lateral flow test at a cabin outside the arrivals terminal.

The four-star Rock Hotel, with magnificent views across the Bay of Gibraltar, has already received an increased number of calls from Britons wanting a summer stay.

British Airways has also experienced a surge in flight bookings.

Mr Picardo says anyone who comes here certainly won’t be disappointed.

“I hope they find Gibraltar is a place where they feel at home, where they want to continue visiting, even in the future,” he says proudly. “Despite the fact that we’re just two-and-a-quarter square miles, there really is a lot to discover.”



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