Panel backs compulsory vaccines for over-50s
Compulsory vaccination against Covid-19 should be introduced for those aged over 50 and anyone working with vulnerable people, such as hospital and care home staff, a panel of medical experts said on Friday, as parliament prepares to debate the issue next week.
The scheme should cover all healthcare workers, including cross-border workers, who come into contact with the most vulnerable, said Dr Gérard Schockmel, a specialist in infectious diseases at the Hopitaux Robert Schuman and one of the panel’s five experts, who presented their findings at a press conference on Friday.
If approved by parliament, Dr Schockmel added, mandatory vaccinations could start in early March and would affect 40,000 people over the age of 50 who are currently unvaccinated and a further 30,000 who have not had a booster shot, he said. The order should remain in place until June 2024, the panel recommended.
The group of experts presented their recommendations without either Prime Minister Xavier Bettel or Health Minister Paulette Lenert present. Both have refused to be drawn on whether they would back the imposition of mandatory vaccinations.
The government had asked the panel to give its scientific opinion on the subject ahead of a full debate in parliament, which is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, according to a parliament spokesperson.
The Liberals (DP), the Greens – two government parties – and the opposition Christian-Democrats (CSV) have called for mandatory vaccinations. PM Xavier Bettel has previously said he did not wish to push through the proposals with just 31 votes in parliament, the minimum needed for a majority.
Record numbers of infections
The vaccine mandate should not be limited to two or three doses but instead vary depending on how many doses are necessary to provide the best possible protection, Schockmel also said. Under current legislation, a person’s vaccine certificate expires nine months after the second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or the first shot of Johnson&Johnson.
Although hospitalisations have remained stable and below levels seen last month, infection numbers in Luxembourg have skyrocketed in recent weeks, with the country recording more than 2,300 new cases on Thursday, its highest ever number of daily Covid-19 infections.
Daily infection numbers – which were in the mid to low hundreds in December - have remained in and around 2,000 every day for most of this week, with roughly one in three tests returning a positive result.
A vaccine mandate will do little to curb the current Omicron wave, Dr Claude Müller, another member of the panel, said on Friday. It is likely that countries will ultimately not succeed in completely eradicating Covid-19, he added.
The Omicron variant is now the dominant strain of Covid-19 in Luxembourg, the national health laboratory (LNS) said on Friday, featuring in three-quarters of all new infections in the final week of 2021.
Omicron was present in almost 75% of all cases in the last week of the year, compared to 37% the previous week, when Delta was the dominant strain, according to figures released by LNS.
New workplace rules
From Saturday, stricter Covid regulations will apply in workplaces across Luxembourg, as employees will have to show proof of a negative test, vaccination or recent recovery from the virus in order to enter. Failure to do so could result in staff having to take leave or losing pay, although they cannot be fired.
A series of protests against current Covid-19 regulations and vaccinations are scheduled for Luxembourg City this weekend, beginning with the regular Marche blanche on Friday evening, while a counter-demonstration against the anti-vaccine group is also planned.
The opposition CSV party has called for parliament to pass new legislation on demonstrations, following reports of protests in the capital last weekend which were not registered with police.
Austria became the first country in the EU to approve a general mandate for vaccination, which will take effect next month.
(Additional reporting by John Monaghan)