What is the future for Gibraltar

Vaccinated back to normal: Gibraltar makes mask-free

It's still a bit unreal for Samantha Sacramento. For a few days now, after a year in Gibraltar, you hardly have to wear a mask anymore. "You feel as if you have forgotten something or as if you were doing something wrong. I believe that psychologically we have some catching up to do at all levels," says the health minister of the British overseas territory in southern Spain.

Vaccinated at record speed: with 34,000 residents, the number of vaccination doses required was clear

The curfew has also been lifted. Bars and restaurants are now open again until two in the morning, just as they were before the pandemic. The residents are relieved on Spanish television. They can finally breathe a sigh of relief. "Maybe soon we can live as we used to," says one waitress.

A strong contrast to the rest of Europe, where many countries are currently living in lockdown again or are still living due to the rapidly increasing number of infections.

Europe's fastest vaccination program

Minister Sacramento believes that the "rock" can now carefully dare to return to normal after long months of pandemics is not only due to consistent corona protective measures, but above all to the well-organized vaccination program. Almost all of the approximately 34,000 residents are now vaccinated and even a large part of the approximately 10,000 Spanish commuters who work in Gibraltar. That is of course in the fight against the virus.

Ticket to unlimited freedom? A couple from Gibraltar proudly presents the vaccination certificate

As British Health Minister Matt Hancock announced, Gibraltar could be the first nation in the world to vaccinate the entire population. And in Europe, perhaps also the nation with the fastest vaccination program. The decisive factor was its size: you could only get vaccinated that quickly because it was a small nation. And because there were no delivery bottlenecks. Vaccine was provided by the UK without delay.

One should be grateful, says Samantha Sacramento. Because the British overseas territory has also experienced difficult hours. After the pandemic was relatively mild until the end of last year, the virus variants came. And with them the first deaths. A total of 94 Gibraltarians have so far died from or with the corona virus. A high number considering the small number of inhabitants.

Currently, the Corona station in the local St. Bernard's Hospital no longer has to care for patients. "We haven't had any positive cases for a few days. That's an incredibly good sign," said Health Minister Samantha Sacramento.

Right next door, in Andalusia, Spain, you are still a long way from this goal. The region is currently seeing a sharp increase in infections again. After a short break, the hospitals are now filling up again easily.

The Andalusian Lourdes Gámiz is nevertheless pleased that the Gibraltarians move through life a little more carefree. It gives her hope. At the same time, she is of course also jealous. The 63-year-old pensioner and her husband have been living in seclusion in the countryside near Granada for many months to avoid contagion. Although many shops and restaurants in Spain are open subject to restrictions and curfews, the government has just tightened the mask requirement again. It now even applies to sunbathing on the beach.

Longing for normality

For Gámiz, wearing a mask has become unbearable. She lacks the lightheartedness from before. "Just go out in peace with whoever you want, see your family or friends. Get closer to people. In Spain, and especially in Andalusia, we like to meet and are very sociable. It is desperate."

Lourdes Gámiz eagerly awaits her invitation to the vaccination appointment. But that could take a while. Spaniards over 80 as well as health workers and teachers have now been vaccinated on a large scale. But overall, only around six percent of the population have complete vaccination protection. Delivery bottlenecks, priority lists and bureaucracy throw Spain and the rest of the EU back in the vaccination plan.

The mask requirement remains in place in local transport

Lourdes Gámiz is skeptical that 70 percent of the Spanish population will be vaccinated by the end of summer, as the government promised at the start of the vaccination program. Gámiz says that two of her friends have now been vaccinated. But she only expects a return to normal life in the coming year.

And even if there was a first public event next door in Gibraltar - a boxing match with 500 spectators - one remains cautious there too. Only fully vaccinated Gibraltarians were allowed to participate. They also had to be tested additionally.

Gibraltar is re-examining its easing steps every week. The masks in the shops must therefore still be worn until further notice. The government wants to continue to exercise caution.