Luxembourg eases vaccination deadline
By Jean-Michel Hennebert and Emery P. Dalesio
Luxembourg will ease the pressure on the unvaccinated in the hope more will volunteer to get their protective jab, Health Minister Paulette Lenert said on Wednesday as pushback against tougher restrictions increases domestically and cases surge across Europe.
The government will now provide free PCR coronavirus tests for people who take an initial vaccine dose by November 10 and must wait weeks before their second shot, Lenert said at a news conference.
The previous deadline to qualify for the government-paid tests was November 1, the starting date for a new legal requirement that all patrons of bars or restaurants, as well as employees of companies who choose the option, must show proof they have been vaccinated, tested or gained immunity by surviving Covid-19.
The decision comes as the government tries to pressure but not require vaccinations in a country that lags behinds its neighbours in acceptance of the health precaution.
Luxembourg's adult population was 75% fully vaccinated as of Wednesday, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Germany's vaccination rate was 79%, France 80% and Belgium 86%, the centre's data showed.
In Luxembourg, the number of people testing positive for Covid-19 increased by 25% to 981 during the week ending on Sunday, the government said on Wednesday. Their average age was nearly 34, up from 32 the previous week, health officials said.
Of the country's 17 patients hospitalized with the disease, 11 were not vaccinated while the other six were fully vaccinated. Five out of the seven patients in intensive care wards were unvaccinated, health officials said. There were two new deaths last week and their average age was 71, the government said.
Then on Wednesday, another 239 people tested positive for the disease and 37 required hospital treatment, including nine in intensive care, the Health Ministry said. One person died, officials said, raising the country's total number of victims to 843.
Luxembourg's schools, where children were only recently given the go-ahead for vaccinations, are a concern. "The virus continues to circulate where people are not vaccinated, and therefore in primary schools in particular," national health director Jean-Claude Schmit told The Luxemburger Wort.
Despite its vaccination high rate, Belgium is confronting a dramatic new increase in infections that matched the level hit last November just before the government imposed a second lockdown.
The Netherlands said this week it may impose new restrictions to reduce pressure on hospitals struggling to deal with sharp increase in patients. Latvia, which along with the United Kingdom is confronting one of Europe's highest rate of infections, last week announced a new, month-long lockdown.
Despite the virus primarily causing the unvaccinated to fall ill, Luxembourg's leaders have faced resistance against the new requirement to show a CovidCheck certificate when entering restaurants, bars and workplaces. Beginning on Monday, companies will have the authority to withhold salaries from staff who refuse to comply, refuse them entry to the workplace, or even dismiss them.
Trade unions and Luxembourg's State Council, the de facto upper legislative chamber, have expressed opposition. Luxembourg data regulator CNPD cautioned the legislation could violate data-protection laws due to its lack of clarity on whether employers would process or keep health data from their workers.
Days after Parliament adopted the new anti-Covid laws last week, four petitions against the tighter rules have been circulating in search of public support. One of the petitions urges a referendum to scrap the CovidCheck system and another calls for the pass not to be used in companies and public institutions such as schools and hospitals.