MASS testing of around one percent of the population each day will be the first stage of the ‘seek and destroy’ strategy of COVID-19 on the Rock.
Those who then are known to be positive will be contact traced to see who they have met over a period of time.
At the moment, it seems that contact tracing will be done centrally rather than through a voluntary app, raising privacy concerns, which are being considered less than the national interest.
The speed of processing tests will be increased with a new lab being set up at the University of Gibraltar over the next few weeks.
It will operate the five-minute test invented by Gibraltarian Nick Cortes and his team at Hampshire Hospitals NHS Trusts.
“We are aiming to increase testing over the coming weeks to 300 tests per day with results available within 24 hours,” said Minister for Civil Contingencies, Samantha Sacramento.
“This large volume of testing (which is about 1% of the population per day) will allow us to decide whether the lockdown measures can be further relaxed over coming weeks.”
A Contact Tracing Bureau with 40 staff will be located both at St Bernard’s Hospital and at the Europa Point Nightingale Facility.
It will carry out a case interview on symptoms and past medical history.
The interview will find out who they have contacted recently and ask the COVID-19 infected person to self-isolate for ten days.
Those contacts will then need to go through the same process.
Olive Press questions over privacy concerns were said to be less important than the need to ensure the virus does not spread.
Low cases currently
The news came as the number of active recorded cases in the Gibraltar remained at just three.
This number has not budged in recent days despite a targeted sample of all frontline workers in the last two weeks.
“Of the three positive cases at the moment, one arises from normal testing, following a call to 111 when the person manifested symptoms,” said Sacramento.
“The other two arise from the targeted and systematic sampling of frontline workers who were asymptomatic.”
There are still 450 tests pending from the 1,375 swabs taken from this targeted sample.
Four cases were discovered, two of which have already recovered.
After updates to the release of the lockdown today by the governments of Spain and the UK, the Chief Minister will release his own ‘Unlock the Rock’ document this week.
Social distancing will be central to this document, as well as this aggressive testing and tracing programme.
More lockdown breakers
Commissioner for Police Ian McGrail said that ‘more people are leaving their households, especially younger members of the community’.
“We are increasingly seeing young teenagers out and about without their parents,” said McGrail.
“On Friday, the beaches became busy and were closed shortly after 3pm.”
Crowds of people have been marshaled by the RGP coming onto the beaches who found it hard to keep them to social distancing rules during their 30 minute exercise period.
A number of people had problems in the Levante waves, with the most serious being a woman at Catalan Bay who needed to be rescued.
McGrail reported that over 1100 people had been contacted by the police since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
Nearly 60 of them had been arrested of which only 14 had to go to court for crimes related to those infractions.
The numbers have been considerably lower than neighbouring town La Linea where nearly 300 people have been fined €600 on the spot.
The chief of police said the officers had faced so much aggression they even had to ‘deploy incapacitant spray’ to subdue those they had to arrest.
This is why he said it was ‘not an easy feat at all’ to police the COVID-19 emergency.
In response to Olive Press reader questions, the Commissioner said that officers could wear masks when talking to elderly people with hearing problems.
“The public health advice suggests that if social distancing cannot be applied, that they recommend officers to wear those masks,” said Commissioner McGrail.
“I can take that on and if your reader and can reassure them that that is a perfectly viable solution to their own concerns.”
He added he was looking forward to ‘cracking on’ with the recommendations of a critical report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary.