Lawmakers approve tighter measures as Omicron spreads
Luxembourg's parliament approved a further tightening of the country's Covid-19 restrictions on Friday, which will see hospitality venues close at 11pm and additional tests required for those who have not yet received a a booster vaccine, amid a surge in new infections.
The new measures, which will come into force on Christmas Day, received the support of enough deputies on Friday, just over a week after parliament last met to adopt the most recent legislation, which largely targeted the unvaccinated.
Whilst parliament rejected a motion by the Christian Democrats (CSV) on introducing mandatory vaccinations for all, a majority of lawmakers agreed that such a step should be discussed again in the chamber next month.
The fresh restrictions were unveiled on Wednesday by Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and Health Minister Paulette Lenert, as the country grapples with rising cases and braces for the full impact of Omicron, a new and more contagious virus mutation, although first studies show that it causes milder illness than the delta strain.
Luxembourg’s infection rates have kept on creeping upwards, with 600 cases alone recorded on Wednesday. Nine people in the country have died from the virus in each of the past two weeks, and a further four have died since the weekend.
The State Council, a legal advisory body to the government, gave its consent to the new law on Thursday. Protests against the measures are expected to be held on both Friday and Christmas Day.
The CSV, the largest opposition party, and the Pirate Party welcomed a mandatory test requirement for those visiting bars and restaurants who have not had a booster shot, but criticised the government for not introducing the measures when it last revamped the existing measures.
"We already knew last week that Omicron was on the rise and that it was highly contagious", CSV parliamentary leader Martine Hansen told The Luxemburger Wort.
"Not doing anything was not an option", Mars Di Bartolomeo, a deputy from the left-wing LSAP party, said during the parliamentary session on Friday morning.
To gain access to a restaurant or a bar - currently already restricted to those who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from the disease - customers will now also need to show they have received a booster shot, or perform a rapid self-test. Hospitality venues will also be required to close their doors at 11pm and more limits will apply to numbers at public gatherings.
"We don't know how big the risk is to get severely ill, to end up in hospital or to die [from Omicron],” Bettel said during the press conference on Wednesday unveiling the proposals. "Because we don't know that, it is important we remain cautious,” he said.
Luxembourg is following in the footsteps of neighbouring Germany, which has also tightened rules to tackle a spread in Omicron cases, while other countries, such as the Netherlands, have decided to go further and impose a full-scale lockdown.
From January, all workers in Luxembourg will need to show proof of vaccination if they want to come to the office, or be prepared to take daily tests. If they refuse, employers will have powers to force them to take the day off or dock their pay.
(Additional reporting by Michèle Gantenbein, Yannick Lambert)