The Gibraltar Government hopes to start the public inquiry into Gibraltar’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic “as soon as possible” in the new year, but progress will depend on the impact of the Omicron variant in the coming weeks.
The inquiry was first announced in April 2020, soon after Gibraltar’s first lockdown. But over 18 months on, the demands on public administration and the GHA have prevented it from progressing beyond the planning stage.
Speaking to reporters in the run-up to Christmas, the Chief Minister said he was keen to get the inquiry started but would not be drawn further on timings or what shape the process would take, or who would head it.
“A lot of work has been done on that…but we haven’t yet made the decisions and therefore I want to leave open the possibility that the Cabinet may make different decisions when the time comes to press the button to start the inquiry,” Mr Picardo said.
“The time will be…as soon as possible in the new year.”
“What we can’t do is start the inquiry if the GHA is suffering because we suddenly find ourselves having to deal with a large number of hospitalisations, which we certainly hope will not be the case.”
“We hope the measures that we’ve taken to date will continue to enable us to see a flat curve and low numbers of hospitalisations and no deaths.”
The aim of the inquiry will be to scrutinise every decision and step taken during the pandemic in order draw lessons to improve Gibraltar’s future response to any similar event.
When he first announced the commitment at the outset of the pandemic in 2020, Mr Picardo said it would be “…an essential part of how we learn of what we have done right and what we have done wrong in this uncharted territory.”
“We will learn for an early repeat if necessary,” he said at the time.
“And we will record and learn for future governments relevant matters for our historic record as a community.”
“This will guide us also in respect of how we fashion a better GHA for the future and a better public service generally and indeed, a better Gibraltar.”
Back in March 2021, pressed in Parliament by Marlene Hassan Nahon, the leader Together Gibraltar, Mr Picardo said the inquiry would start “fairly soon”, even while cautioning that the time and resources needed to do it properly “cannot be underestimated”.
For those tasked with setting the inquiry up, there is a delicate balance to be struck.
The GHA is under constant pressure, not just with its Covid-19 response but also ensuring that normal services put on hold during the pandemic are now back up and running.
For now then, while the government remains committed to starting the inquiry at the earliest opportunity, there is nothing set in stone, not even the name of the person who will oversee it.
“Although I have a very good idea, we haven’t yet finalised those issues and I don’t want to say something which then becomes a hostage to fortune if we cannot finalise it,” Mr Picardo said.