MASKS are back in force at Gibraltar’s main hospital and elderly residences after ‘a severe increase in influenza and other respiratory conditions’, its public health director said.
The Gibraltar Health Authority (GHA) introduced mask wearing in all areas of its public facilities ‘to protect our patients and staff’ from COVID-19, flu and RSV.
Visitors to St Bernard’s Hospital and other locations will be able to pick up a free mask at the entrance to the buildings which they will have to wear during their stay.
The mandatory wearing of masks comes exactly a year after the same order was imposed just before Christmas in December 2022.
Mask rules were fully lifted in June 2023 at GHA premises last June after the global pandemic was declared over.
But in recent weeks, the latest strains of the coronavirus that killed nearly 7 million people worldwide plus a hardier version of flu viruses have again imperiled the health of the elderly and vulnerable.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus, commonly known as RSV, has also rocked many communities and authorities fear its spread.
The GHA advised people with flu-like symptoms not to visit patients at the hospital.
It urged people to wash their hands regularly as ‘the best way to fight the flu’ and asked for respect of its mask rules.
“We will keep monitoring the number of patients seen with these and then reduce the need to wear masks in all areas as appropriate,” Public Health Director Dr Helen Carter said.
“I would like to reassure the public that this situation is being dealt with.
“We are mostly taking a preventative stance to ensure the safety of our patients, particularly our elderly and vulnerable ones, whilst doing everything we can to make sure that our staff and resources are being protected,” she added.
Over 100 people died with COVID-19 during the global pandemic, the majority just before vaccines arrived in early 2021.
Gibraltar’s tight-knit community has always proved a real hotbed for the spread of viruses although it changed quickly to quell the coronavirus in recent years.