Gibraltar reels as coronavirus deaths quadruple in fortnight

Gibraltar was reeling Monday after 13 people died at the weekend, with soaring Covid-19 infections driving the death toll up fourfold in under a fortnight.

Gibraltar reels as coronavirus deaths quadruple in fortnight
Photo: AFP

On Sunday, the tiny British enclave at the southern tip of Spain, said nine people had died over a 24-hour period in the highest daily figure yet, raising the total number of deaths to 43. Another four people died on Saturday.

Gibraltar only registered its first death from Covid-19 in mid-November and by January 6, the toll had risen to 10.

Most of those who died over the weekend in their 80s and 90s, a government statement said.   

The deaths came two weeks after Gibraltar imposed a second lockdown to slow the soaring rate of infections, with its 34,000 residents only able to leave home for essential shopping, to work, exercise or for medical reasons.

Initially slated for two weeks, the lockdown was extended on Friday and is likely to remain in place until the end of the month.   

The number of cases has also more than tripled, with the territory counting 3,670 cases, Sunday's figures showed, up from just over 1,000 at the start of December.

“The death toll is growing at an intolerable rate,” said Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.  “It is just devastating at a human level.”  

Officials are concerned the soaring infections may be linked to the new coronavirus variant which was first detected in the UK in November although so far, Gibraltar has only confirmed one such case.

Gibraltar relies on British laboratories for genetic sequencing to confirm cases of the new variant.

“We don't have the information at the moment on the genetic makeup of the strain.. (but it) is behaving as if it were one of those more infectious strains,” Picardo said on January 8th.   

Writing on Twitter on Sunday, Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya sent a message of “solidarity with all Gibraltarians who are fighting #covid19” saying she hoped it would “soon be behind us”.

Despite its proximity to hard-hit Spain, which has counted 2.2 million cases and over 53,000 deaths, Gibraltar has not closed its border which is crossed daily by 15,000 workers, although movement is restricted to essential work or medical reasons.   

Gibraltar began rolling out its vaccination programme on January 9th using the Pfizer vaccine and by Sunday, had administered 5,847 doses — covering around 17 percent of the population.

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Did Sweden’s state epidemiologist really get a big job at the WHO?

For his supporters, it was well-deserved, for his detractors a case of failing upwards. But when Sweden's Public Health Agency announced this month that state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell was taking a job at the World Health Organisation, both sides assumed it was true.

Did Sweden's state epidemiologist really get a big job at the WHO?

Now, it seems, the job might not be there after all. 

At the start of this month, Sweden’s Public Health Agency announced that Anders Tegnell was resigning to take up a post coordinating vaccine work with the World Health Organisation in Geneva. 

“I’ve worked with vaccines for 30 years and have at the same time always been inspired by international issues,” Tegnell said in the release. “Now I will have the chance to contribute to this comprehensive international work.”

During the first and second waves of the Covid-19 pandemic, Tegnell shot immediately from obscurity into the spotlight, gaining such celebrity status in Sweden that one fan had his profile tattooed onto his arm.

Internationally he was hailed by lockdown sceptics for his reasoned arguments against overly restrictive measures to control the spread of the virus. 

His new WHO appointment was reported all over the world. 

But on Tuesday, the Svenska Daglabdet newspaper revealed that the job had not yet been awarded. A spokesperson for the WHO said at a press conference in Geneva that “there is some confusion”, and that “this is an internal question.” 

According to the newspaper, there is even “a certain level of irritation” behind the scenes at the WHO that Sweden acted too soon and dispatched Tegnell to a job that did not actually exist yet. 

“We have received an offer from Sweden, which is still under discussion,” the organisation’s press spokesperson, Fadela Chaib, told the newspaper. 

On Thursday, the Public Health Agency’s press chief Christer Janson conceded that there had been a mistake and that the negotiation had not been completed.  

“We believed it was done, but it wasn’t,” he told Expressen in an interview. “It’s been a much longer process to get this completed than we thought. There’s been a misunderstanding and we regret that.”