THE elected leader of Gibraltar spoke of ‘staring into the abyss’ at the possible death of a tenth of the population.
Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said that handling the COVID-19 pandemic was ‘the most difficult thing’ he had ever done.
The opening up to the public came as the Chief Minister announced that the forced lockdown would end on May 21.
It followed the announcement that there were still only two people who had coronavirus on the Rock out of 147 confirmed cases.
After nearly 5,200 swab tests of 16% of the population being carried out, there were only nine results still being processed.
Despite the success of avoiding a single death that has killed thousands worldwide, Picardo spoke of his feelings when he was told of the destruction the virus could cause.
“At one stage, some of the numbers we were looking at were 3,000 or at least hundreds dead in a period of eight to twelve weeks,” he revealed.
“This is literally to stare into the abyss as it would mean Gibraltar losing 10% of our population.
“We were establishing niches in the cemetery, not because we wanted to scare people, but because it was our obligation to have in place a contingency to deal with that number of dead bodies.”
Land of the free
He said he found it hardest ‘impose restrictions on people’s constitutional freedoms’ that Gibraltar had fought for during so many years.
“Many generations of struggle led to us to have complete control over the geography of Gibraltar and the freedom to roam around it, as we wish,
“And yet, overnight, we extinguished that for ourselves.
“It was the first time in the British history of Gibraltar, that the civilian government of Gibraltar has restricted the movement of the civilian population in and around Gibraltar.”
He said that tackling this crisis was the hardest thing he had to do at a personal level, even paling in comparison to Brexit.
“I thought Brexit was difficult, but this has been undoubtedly the most difficult thing I have ever done and I’ve got ministers who’ve been through a lot.
“This was never a wave – 147 cases is really a cluster.”
He described the way the pandemic was handled as a ‘rollercoaster of emotions’ from fear to elation, after which his eyes filled with tears.
Picardo recomposed himself when he said he could understand that people wanted to return to normality.
“I can’t complain that people want to get together as it’s in the nature of human relations,” he said.
“But I can tell you that I think it’s very selfish not to appreciate the sacrifice that we’ve all made.”
He also blasted the modern ‘naysayers’: “Social media is many things which fill us with joy, like the opportunity for families to stay united if they are at great distance.
“It’s also a place for the most horrendous gossip and the most opinionated to give the worst of themselves.”
Finally, as he drew to a close the last daily press conference, he appealed for ‘common sense and human nature’ to prevail by keeping social distancing to keep COVID-19 at bay.