More restrictions for partying just before holidays
Luxembourg clamped down further on public life on Wednesday, ordering restaurants and bars to close by 23:00 hrs and calling off large gatherings just days before Christmas to prevent the rapidly spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus from overwhelming hospitals.
Prime Minister Xavier Bettel announced the measures just days after the country adopted new laws turning the screws on the unvaccinated, as the world braces for the impact of Omicron, a new and more contagious virus mutation, although it is not clear whether it is also more deadly.
"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 a press conference he held together with Health Minister Paulette Lenert. "Because we don't know that, it is important we remain cautious,” he said.
Like other European countries, Luxembourg is facing a new onslaught of the virus, recording a further 229 new infections on Tuesday, and one more death. Yet the number of patients needing hospital treatment is much lower than during previous peaks, showing the positive effects of the vaccines.
Bettel also broached the controversial issue of mandatory vaccinations, having long maintained jabs would remain voluntary. But rising infections have cast doubt on that, he said, and the government would decide next month.
To gain access to a restaurant or a bar - already only allowed for people 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.
When the government put similar measures in place during Christmas last year, it kept them in place for a large part of this year.
Luxembourg is following in the footsteps of Germany which is also tightening rules to brace for Omicron. But the new measures fall short of the full-scale lockdown countries like the Netherlands and Denmark have imposed.
"We do not know much about Omicron, but what we know is concerning," Lenert said. The mutation, which was first discovered just 28 days ago in South Africa, has already eclipsed the Delta variant as the most dominant in the UK, where it caused cases to spike within a very short time.
Large gatherings, like Luxembourg's annual student Christmas ball, will have to be called off and attendees at public meetings of between 10 and 20 people will need to show a vaccine certificate, Bettel said. For bigger meetings, people would also need to perform a rapid self-test on site.
In schools, students and teachers in schools will need to wear masks and children between the ages of 5 and 11 can now receive vaccination. The measures will be put to a vote in parliament on Friday, and come into force the next day.
Only six days ago, Luxembourg lawmakers turned the screws on the unvaccinated with new legislation. From January, workers need to show proof of vaccination if they want to come to the office, or do and pay for daily tests. If they refuse, employers are entitled to cut pay or sack them.