THE COST OF VICTORY
September 16, 2020
The battle that Gibraltar waged against the Pandemic has been one against the continuous attrition unleashed by a virus that showed no mercy and gave no quarters, intended to wear down its quarry.
This time though, it caught us prepared and very much determined and we were able to check its advance before it inflicted any damage on us. To be able to check, though not checkmate yet, such an obstinate and pertinacious enemy is not easy. The Government covered every angle and posted sentries at every corner so as not to be caught unprepared.
This was only the first assault. An important first assault that could have left the population weakened, despondent, decimated and without any reserve to carry on defending itself.
This first battle, however, was a resounding victory to Picardo & Co, such was his determination not to be browbeaten and submit. But this came at a tremendous cost in every sense, not only monetary. Mind you there was no alternative. One of the pre-conditions for victory was closing down most of our sources of income, or resources; tourism and commerce of every kind without being certain if we would ever be able to recover the very healthy status quo ante. We did everything short of turning our nation into an island simply because we depend on our supplies and labour on outside sources that required access. Notwithstanding our needs, access into Gibraltar was well controlled.
Although with our normal medical resources we seemed to have done well and contained the spread of the virus, Government installed an auxiliary hospital at the Europa Point sports complex in the event that, despite everything, the virus threatened to overwhelm us.
The unavoidable lockdown affected the people of Gibraltar directly, each class by order of age differently, with the greater emphasis put of those over seventy and most susceptible to the infection.
As we started to appear to have the virus under control, people became eager to get back to the normal routine. However, what some seemed to forget was, that we can only feel as protected as our next door neighbour, since we cannot afford to isolate ourselves completely.
Government made provision so that those dependent on a salary would continue to have access to money if only for a specific period of time.
The cost of all this is more keenly felt if no money is coming into the economy, obviously.
Spain itself, like us, seemed to have managed to control the spread of the infection and the opposition there attempted to make political capital by demanding to know when the lockdown was going to be lifted. The Spanish Government gave way and passed responsibility for the lifting of restrictions to the regions, who were eager to start revamping the economies by increasing revenue though tourism and commerce generally, without being overtly careful how they went about it. As a result, the infection started spreading again and new restrictions had to be implemented. The virus is not dead until it becomes unresponsive, and we are not quite there yet.
We did not have that pressure from the opposition because they were kept fully informed throughout the crisis, but people were eager to get back to the traditional summer dip on the beaches and the occasional lunch and supper on outside terraces etc. We followed suit soon after and we unlocked Gibraltar. Frankly, we couldn’t do much else.
The cost, up to that point, was huge. We now needed to take stock and see how we could get back to the status quo ante, if at all.
The world was still reeling from the virus, so some of our traditional sources of income were, simply, not available, and would not be so for the foreseeable future, while different countries sorted out their particular dilemmas. Great Britain, one of our traditional sources of tourism, has never been able to flatten the Pandemic curve, and still hasn’t. Spain managed to do so but only ephemerally and are now desperate to control spiraling infections, without daring to establish a lockdown again, because it would be very unpopular.
Gibraltar has a situation where, not only are we dependent on supplies and labour from across the frontier but people still do not seem to realise how dangerous it is to take a holiday there while the virus rages. If you are going to take a holiday in Spain and then self-isolate, or live in a bubble for protection, why go there in the first place?
The renewed interchange between us and Spain has produced a certain degree of insecurity that did not exist before. We still seem to have the bull by the horns but we cannot control where our people holiday or what they do when they are there. A successful vaccine would be the panacea we are all waiting for. We have to be patient though, and not despair.
Having done so much and spent so much in order to stave off the virus, we now have to spend even more to bring back our economy on to an even keel and make it work. This even before we have been able to elucidate the Brexit endgame. So, we see the complexities are myriad and ever changing.
Nevertheless, we are the only ones who have an economic plan with which we will be facing our future.
Whatever money we have must be used to make more money. As investments for our future. Our Government must ensure that whatever there is in the kitty is not splashed on dead wood that we can hardly afford to carry. Those being given extensions of work because of Covid, have to understand that this does not mean living at the expense of the tax payer forever. This is important and normal labour rules should not apply because of the crisis. If, as seems evident, we leave the EU without a deal, we can make our own rules anyway.
But we cannot yet make concrete decisions until we know how Brexit will turn out and how we fit in. Any investments the business community intends to make will be on hold until then.
We are, nevertheless, lucky that the popular party is not in power in Spain because then matters would have been a lot nastier. We hear that Margallo is totally disenchanted with the socialists because of the tax treaty and the relationship Fabian has managed with them. But achieving the new normal and adjusting to it, whatever that may eventually turn out to be, will cost us money. Just maintaining the machinery of Government is expensive, more so when the revenue has dwindled compared to the pre-Pandemic era. I have no doubt that we will pull out of the crisis successfully, such is our traditional resilience.
Of course, we must put the collectivity before the individual, because this is the only way forward.
However, returning to the pandemic, our success in vanquishing it will very much depend on the Spanish success to do the same, simply because we cannot turn ourselves into an island. We can, nevertheless, do a lot to stop the spread of the infection and this is being done.
The administration is doing all it can, but people must do their bit too.
Meanwhile we learn that Covid cases in France and Portugal soar and Morocco extends state of emergency.