20 Mar, 2020 @ 20:14
3 mins read

CORONAVIRUS: ‘Gibraltar is like a cruise ship’, says minister at drive-thru testing


The new testing facility at the old Rooke site could have results back in six hours once it sets up on Monday.

Minister for Health Paul Balban was at the makeshift gazebo where the tests will be carried out this afternoon.

He said Gibraltar was more in danger because it was ‘like a cruise ship’ with everyone living in close proximity to each other.

“Once we have our testing equipment fully set up and operational, we will no longer be relying on third parties to be able to do these tests,” said Balban.

“This makes it possible to screen a large amount of the population to find those who have already gone past the coronavirus itself and are ready to come back into the community to help us in terms of work.”


Balban informed The Olive Press that preparations were being made as early as January when the first cases appeared in China.

“As the virus spread out into into Europe, and we knew it was coming, we did everything humanly possible to put Gibraltar in the best place possible,” he said.

“The challenge has actually been adapting to all the advice that has been changing constantly on treating the pandemic.

“We’re at the cusp of all the leading advice and I’m very proud that we seem to have been ahead of many other countries.”

CONCERNED: Minister Balban at the drive-thru testing facility on Queensway

With just over 1,000 cases out of more than eight million people in Andalucia, Gibraltar’s ten cases add up to roughly the same proportion being hit as the neighbouring Spanish region.

“Gibraltar is a very small community and it has been compared to a cruise ship,” said Balban.

“The methods that are being used now, especially the social distancing, are the ones that are going to help us flatten that curve, which is our intention.

“We aim to have a controlled amount of people becoming positive at the same time that will help us preserve our resources.

“The most critical of them are the GHA, ERS and the Care Agency which are what’s going to keep Gibraltar healthy.”

Breaking point

The health minister concluded that it was important to allow GHA workers to have a break to prevent burnout too.

“Everyone has been rowing in the same direction but we’ve been allowing some people to take time off too,” he added.

“We need to protect the staff because they’re the key to this equation.

“It is our job to make sure that they are they are fit and healthy and happy to continue working at the rates and the pace of they are working at the moment.”

Evelyn Cervan, principle secretary to the minister of health, said this facility was in the pipeline for a couple of weeks.

“What we’re trying to do is keep the hospital just for acute medical care, moving everything that we can move outside it.

“This is a perfect opportunity to have individuals in the community having a swab by invitation only through the 111 line.”

She reported that the drive-thru facility might increase its facilities later on, but for the moment this swabbing was all it would be used for.

Once the results are in the tested will be contacted by telephone with the results.

“If they test positive patients will be assessed depending on their needs,” said Cervan.

“They will then either be moved into one of our isolation areas or stay in isolation at home.”

SWABS: Medical experts will be analysing the samples within 24 hours at most

Ready to serve

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo also confirmed later on that a recent delivery meant that Gibraltar was now properly equipped to begin testing at a greater scale, as advised by the World Health Organisation.

“I’m pleased to be able to tell you that we now have sufficient swabs in Gibraltar to do all of the testing that we need to do,” said the Chief Minister.

Krish Rawal, Acting Director of Health pointed out that the procedure would help the GHA carry out around 50 swabs a day.

“Up to now we have had a number of ways of doing swabs to patients who’ve ended up in A&E or by actually going into people’s houses,” said Rawal.

“This way, it makes it much easier for people to get swabbed.

“But it’s not for somebody with symptoms simply to turn up.

“They need to ring 111 to seek medical advice.

“They will receive a phone call from the infection control team, who will invite them if considered clinically appropriate to come down, either that day or the next day.”

Finally, Balban issued a call-out for the return of all GHA equipment that was not in use.

He said, “We are making a plea to anyone who has any equipment that they no longer need to please return it to the GHA.

“Items including walking sticks, frames and toileting and bathing equipment that can be cleaned and reused for our field hospital, meaning that we can maximise our resources.

“We know there is probably a lot of unused equipment sitting within the community that we can use to help continue to support those patients who are in need of it, especially now.”

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