Luxembourg to mull Covid laws as Bettel leaves hospital
(The fourth paragraph of this story was corrected to say that this week's government meeting could be the last before the summer recess. It first stated that it would be the last.)
Luxembourg on Thursday will detail any changes to current Covid-19 restrictions ahead of parliament's summer recess, amidst calls from opposition parties to introduce more stringent checks as the coronavirus infection rate rises.
Prime Minister Xavier Bettel earlier in the day left hospital - where he had been treated for Covid-19 for a period of four days - hours before a press conference at which the government was expected to outline any new decisions about the health crisis it might have taken at a meeting, also on Thursday.
Bettel had taken back formal control of the government, according to a press release and would work from home until the end of the week and he would not be present at the 14:00 hrs press conference with Health Minister Paulette Lenert and Deputy Prime Minister Dan Kersch.
The existing Covid-19 measures - such as the maximum number of guests at one table in restaurants and checks at the doors of clubs - are due to expire on July 15. Thursday's government meeting could be the last before the parliament goes into recess, with deputies returning in September.
Lenert is expected to announce the use of "mix and match" vaccines, whereby people receive two shots of a different vaccine, according to public broadcaster 100,7. The European Medicines Agency did not issue a recommendation on the issue last week, but left decisions up to individual countries.
Research had shown that the mix and match approach provided “greater effectiveness” than two doses of the same jab, the president of Luxembourg’s High Council for Infectious Diseases (Conseil Supérieur des Maladies Infectieuses, CSMI), Thérèse Staub, said on Wednesday.
Any decisions come as the country is grappling with a surge in infections. The number of cases has shot back up in recent weeks, jumping by more than 600% last week alone. The disease struck 787 people between 28 June and 4 July – up from 107 a week before – with 84% of them were aged between 15 and 44.
Despite the skyrocketing infection rate, only three people were in hospital last week, although the country at the same time recorded its first death connected to the virus in more than a month on Wednesday.
The virus is also continuing to spread in schools. There were 165 positive cases in schools in the past week, the education ministry said on Thursday.
The soaring infections came after national day celebrations on 23 June. More than 300 people who tested positive as of 5 July had said they were in Luxembourg City for the celebrations, Lenert said on Tuesday.
Since Luxembourg introduced the CovidCheck system - which grants access to bars and clubs for people who can show they have been vaccinated, recovered from the disease, or have recently been tested - police carried out 168 searches and issued six fines to businesses in breach of the rules, Lenert added.
As a response to the spike in infections after the national holiday celebrations, police will conduct more checks at businesses that infected people reported to the contact tracing teams, she said.
Tougher police checks required
Martin Hansen, who heads the parliamentary faction of the opposition CSV Christian-Democrats, called for tougher police checks, although she did not believe the general Covid-19 regime should change.
“Where there are weaknesses in the CovidCheck system the government needs to react and remove them,” Hansen told the RTL broadcaster on Thursday.
The mayor of Luxembourg's second-largest city, Esch-sur-Alzette, said he had refused bars permission to extend opening hours until 03:00 hrs on Monday, the same night Italy play England in the final of the Euro 2020 football tournament.
The decision followed scenes of jubilant Italian supporters congregating en masse on Tuesday to celebrate after their team’s victory over Spain, posing an obvious health risk. “We have refused permission for late night extended opening", Georges Mischo told the L’Essentiel newspaper.
However, in Dudelange, mayor Dan Biancalana has said that plans to show the match on a big screen will go ahead, and have been “organised in keeping with the protocol agreed by the Health Ministry”.
“There were around 250 people on Tuesday, around half the available capacity…the same procedure will be in place for the final on Sunday,” Biancalana said.