As Britons celebrate the new lockdown easing measures including outdoor drinking and dining, it feels that perhaps the nation has turned a corner in the fight against the Coronavirus. Yet in the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, the population is one of the first in the world to now be almost fully vaccinated and living a life akin to the pre-Corona days. Maskless gatherings, indoor dining, full audiences at live sports events, Gibraltar offers a glimpse into a future that resembles the past. One of the final restrictions on crowds gathering will be abolished on April 16th, and in the population of 34,000 there have been no Coronavirus related hospitalisations in two weeks. Is this just a fluke of the tiny territory’s small population size and favourable geography? Or are there lessons to be learned from Gibraltar’s model of the pandemic response?
Many other nations have been successful in a near total eradication of the Coronavirus including the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and New Zealand. In these cases, it is perhaps easy to see why – small island populations with the ability to close their borders or closely vet those entering. Iceland for example, was one of the first nations to develop a Coronavirus tracing app, and to offer testing to tourists upon arrival. The renowned medical publication the Lancet attributes initial successes in these countries to ‘large scale testing, contact tracing and isolation combined with social distancing’. But it is worth noting almost all of them suffered a relapse, as these efforts alone are always incomplete without a policy of mass scale vaccination.
Operation Freedom was Gibraltar’s answer to these earlier efforts, beginning in January with the aim of fully vaccinating the population. At the time of writing, over 90% of the population has been vaccinated. This has been achieved without legally mandating the population to get the vaccine, and Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo has given his thanks to Britain for providing the vaccine and leading the way in encouraging people to get vaccinated. He describes the RAF flying in the vaccine as ‘almost like the Dambusters’. There had been over 4000 reported Coronavirus cases in Gibraltar prior to the mass vaccination programme, with 94 deaths. In the UK and many other countries there is a fear that many will opt not to get the vaccine, but in Gibraltar they have reported that only 3% of the population have declined to have the vaccine.
What makes Gibraltar’s case particularly interesting is unlike the Faroe Isles, Iceland, and New Zealand, Gibraltar shares a land border with Spain and has reopened this with a novel approach. It has extended its vaccine drive to more than 10,000 commuters from Spain who regularly work or visit Gibraltar. This has built on the experience of other nations who have suffered second or third waves when visitors from outside have brought the virus back into the population with them. Perhaps this scheme could be emulated across Europe, with regular visitors or workers to close neighbouring countries being offered vaccination at the host country’s expense.
All this taken together has allowed 600 to gather in Gibraltar’s Victoria Stadium to watch Gibraltar play the Netherland’s in the Fifa World Cup Qualifiers, something still a relative distant dream for the UK. Those attending had to either have the antibodies or to have been fully vaccinated as well as showing a negative test result on matchday. In terms of vaccine passports – Gibraltar has taken a rather looser stance owing to the level of uptake. Those vaccinated receive a certificate but displaying the certificate at pubs and restaurants is not currently mandatory. It has also been announced that Gibraltar will welcome vaccinated British tourists as soon as possible, hoping to strike a travel corridor deal that could see Brits move as freely to Gibraltar as anywhere else in the UK.
All these developments act as light at the end of the tunnel for people around the world, demonstrating for the first time in reality how we could actually get back to an almost normal life after the pandemic. Stadiums will once again be filled, restaurants and pubs will become a normal part of an evening’s itinerary, and the deprivations of the lockdown period will become distant memories. UTP Group has been aiding Gibraltar in this pivotal time by providing contactless payment services, which remain the most Covid-secure way to transact. If you are looking for payment solutions whether in the UK, Ireland, or Gibraltar, take a look at our great range of products here.