Luxembourg gets tougher on unvaccinated with new Covid rules
Luxembourg will stop offering free PCR tests after 15 September in an effort to encourage more people to get a Covid-19 jab, Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said on Wednesday, as data shows all patients currently in intensive care were not vaccinated.
As every Luxembourg resident has had a chance to get a Covid-19 vaccine, Bettel called for a "paradigm shift", saying that "we can no longer justify that the general public pays for PCR [tests] for people who do not want to get vaccinated".
With the country's large scale testing scheme ending in two weeks, there will be no free PCR tests any more. Children younger than 12 and those who cannot be vaccinated may still be eligible for free tests, but authorities are still working on this, Bettel said.
"We hope that through this new measure a lot of people will tell themselves that vaccinations are more convenient", Bettel said during a press conference.
Changes from mid-September
Luxembourg is following the lead of France which last month restricted bars and restaurants to people who are either vaccinated, have recovered from the disease or tested negative, prompting millions to rush to vaccination centres for a jab.
Luxembourg will keep the CovidCheck system which grants access to restaurants, bars and sports venues under the same criteria, Bettel said.
The changes to the Covid law will come into force on 15 September and will run until 18 October - pending parliament's approval. The government will also extend the CovidCheck system to hospital visits - for patients and for visitors.
However, Luxembourg's Covid rules remain largely unchanged, with private gatherings of more than 10 people also needing a CovidCheck, Bettel said.
Yet, the government may extend the CovidCheck system to smaller gatherings and to all restaurant and bar visits as Luxembourg heads into winter when infections are likely to go up again, Bettel said.
'Next wave will come'
"The next wave will come," Health Minister Paulette Lenert said during the same press conference. But it will target unvaccinated people and it will be those without immunity that will drive transmission, she added.
Last week, 79% of all new infections were caused by people who were either not vaccinated at all or not fully vaccinated, data from the health ministry showed on Wednesday. A total of 70% of Luxembourg residents are now fully vaccinated, Lenert said, which is in tune with the rest of the EU where seven in 10 people are fully vaccinated.
Luxembourg has seen an increase in new infections in recent weeks - of which 40% were linked to people returning from holiday last week - but hospitalisations did not rise in the same proportion thanks to the impact of the vaccines, Bettel said.
The situation in Luxembourg's hospitals - the "main factor" for determining public health restrictions - remains "stable", according to Bettel. Currently, 29 patients are treated for Covid-19, of which just three were fully vaccinated. All eight patients in Luxembourg's intensive care units chose not to have the jab.
As people who have had all vaccine doses can still catch and spread the disease and occasionally develop strong symptoms due to the more contagious Delta variant, several countries including Israel and the US have started administering booster shots.
So far, Luxembourg has only given out third doses to people with suppressed immune responses such as those who have had a transplant or suffer from an auto-immune disease. The government is still waiting for the recommendation of its chief advisory body - the Conseil Supérieur des Maladies Infectieuses - regarding booster shots for the wider public, which Lenert said was "imminent".