Covid passport to become mandatory for all workers
By Yannick Hansen and John Monaghan
All workers must show proof of vaccination, testing or recovery before entering their workplaces from January, the government announced on Monday, though it ruled out further restrictions or lockdowns to slow down the pandemic.
At a joint press conference with Health Minister Paulette Lenert, Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said not enough information was yet available about the new Omicron variant, cases of which have already been discovered in several European countries, to assess its full impact.
“Not enough is known about Omicron to judge its impact on the sanitary situation,” said Bettel. “The news in the last few days showed us how unpredictable the virus is.”
There were around 80 additional daily cases of new Covid-19 infections registered last week in Luxembourg compared to the previous seven days, the prime minister said. "Our vaccination rate is not high enough to prevent the overwhelming of our healthcare services in the midterm... what we want to avoid is a lockdown,” he said.
Under the new proposals unveiled on Monday, visiting many recreational and leisure activities will no longer be possible by showing a negative test result. Visitors must instead be able to prove they have been vaccinated or recovered from the disease, a much tighter requirement.
Law until February
If Luxembourg's parliament adopts Bettel's plan next week, workers still have three options to enter their offices: vaccination, recovery or a recent negative test. The rule is scheduled to come into force by the middle or end of January.
The government will discuss the exact details of the implementation with trade unions in coming days, Bettel said, although the government would enforce the measures in the event of a breakdown in negotiations.
There are no plans to force schools or businesses to close, Bettel said, though he would not rule out new measures should the situation continue to deteriorate.
Businesses will also be given powers to carry out identity checks to verify the details on a Covid certificate, and refuse entry to those who do not comply.
The new rules should be tough enough to encourage those who are unvaccinated to get jabbed, Health Minister Paulette Lenert said.
Restrictions on several countries
There will be no test requirements for cross-border workers and incoming travellers, Bettel added, although the government did announce measures targeting passengers from several African countries on Friday.
European Union members, including Luxembourg, at the end of last week agreed to rapidly impose restrictions on seven African countries - Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe - as scientists rushed to determine whether the new Omicron strain is more dangerous or transmissible.
Anyone who has been in any of the seven countries in the 14 days prior to arriving in Luxembourg will have to undergo a PCR test as soon as possible, quarantine for seven days and take a second test from the sixth day of quarantine, the health and foreign affairs ministries said in a statement late on Friday. The measure will be in place until 14 January.
Countries across the EU are at the same time stepping up efforts to fight Covid-19 as many states across the 27-member bloc are seeing a surge in numbers.
Austria went into a full national lockdown at the start of last week, while neighbouring Belgium imposed a lighter lockdown on Saturday, ordering bars, restaurants and shops to close their doors by 11pm.
Just last week, Luxembourg's government shortened the period of validity for PCR tests to 48 hours instead of 72 hours, making it harder for unvaccinated residents to access not only bars and restaurants but also their offices. The validity of rapid self-tests will be cut down to 24 hours from 48 hours now.
The new Omicron variant has already been discovered in many countries outside of southern Africa including the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Switzerland. Luxembourg has so far reported no cases. There’s no information to suggest that the Omicron strain affects patients differently than other variants, the World Health Organisation said on Sunday.
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