Calls for Cahen to resign following care home deaths
(The fifth paragraph of this story was corrected. There were 29 votes in favour of the motion, not 21).
By Yannick Lambert and Kate Oglesby
Lawmakers on Tuesday called for the resignation of family affairs minister Corinne Cahen following revelations that Luxembourg knew retirement home residents ran a high risk of dying from Covid-19, but mostly left decisions about proper safeguards in the hands of staff running the homes.
Recommendations from Cahen's ministry on how to protect residents were unclear and government officials could not enforce them since the ministry, while overseeing the homes, lacked authority over their operations, a study by senior statesman Jeannot Waringo published on Monday said.
“These are public establishments, so a minister is responsible”, Gilles Roth of the largest opposition party, the CSV christian democrats, said during a plenary debate in parliament on Tuesday.
The minister's handling of the situation had been "vague, unclear, chaotic and [with] loads of mistakes," said Fred Keup of the right-wing Alternative Democratic Reform party (ADR). He and all other members of the opposition supported a motion calling for Cahen to resign.
In a familiar stand-off in Luxembourg's unicameral legislature, lawmakers from ruling coalition expressed their support for Cahen, frequently quoting an article in German magazine Der Spiegel, which ranked Luxembourg's handling of the pandemic the second-best in the world. The 60-strong Chamber rejected the motion by 31 votes, while there were 29 votes in favour.
Parliament ordered the study led by Waringo in April after Covid-19 swept through the residences established to care for some of society's most fragile members, including an outbreak at an elderly care home in Niederkorn that operators said killed at least two dozen residents.
Elderly residents in nursing and care homes comprised nearly half of all Covid-19 deaths last year as prevention measures fell short, the Luxembourg Times reported in February. During the first six months of the pandemic, which claimed the first Luxembourg death in March 2020, nearly 52% of fatalities involved residents of care homes, this newspaper reported in September.
At the end of their two-month investigation, Waringo and the seven others responsible for it largely avoided assigning responsibility for why Covid-19 cut a deadly path through predictably vulnerable nursing and care homes.
Yet they said the government failed to come up with guidelines for home administrators to protect elderly residents during last summer's lull in infections, at a time that national education officials were already devising a strategy to safely reopen schools last fall, Waringo said.
Home administrators were also confused by the roles of the family ministry and the health ministry, which took a broader role in overseeing the country’s pandemic response, Waringo said. “A lot of homes did not know who to contact”, he said. “Having two oversight ministries confused people”.
Nearly 350 residents of 52 nursing and retirement homes died among the 808 fatalities up to mid-May, this year.