Property damaged in heated Luxembourg Covid protests
(Updates with Sunday comments from internal security minister)
Protests turned raucous on Saturday against Luxembourg's government efforts to drive disease-protecting vaccines as demonstrators tried to push into a Christmas market site without being screened for their infection risk.
About 2,000 people demonstrated against the government's increasing measures limiting social life for the unvaccinated, with marchers carrying their message through the capital's city centre, police said. Some knocked down barriers around Place de la Constitution – site of the Gëlle Fra, or Golden Lady, monument – to bypass mandatory checks, according to Luxemburger Wort reporters at the scene. The so-called CovidCheck regime tracks whether people have been vaccinated, recovered from Covid-19 or proved negative for virus infection in a recent test.
No injuries were reported but there was minor property damage as a result of the protest, Internal Security Minister Henri Kox said at a Sunday morning news conference.
"I want to emphasize clearly that we live in a constitutional state that grants every citizen freedoms," Kox said in promising increased police focus on future protests. "However, a limit has been crossed here and we cannot tolerate that."
The protest came a day after Luxembourg's government announced it would introduce measures requiring daily negative tests from workers refusing vaccinations.
The requirement for a daily negative Covid test to enter work sites was expected to take effect on 15 January, ministers and unions said on Friday. A mandate closing access to restaurants, cafes and many other leisure facilities for the unvaccinated was expected to take effect next week.
The government increased pressure on the unvaccinated in the face of soaring Covid-19 hospitalisations, mostly among the unvaccinated, and the global spread of a virus variant that could be even more contagious and risks overcoming some of the protections current vaccines offer.
The government's tougher rules are "already bearing fruit," Health Minister Paulette Lenert said during an interview with RTL on Friday. Since the conditions were announced on Monday, appointments for people to get their first vaccination have tripled to about 900 a day, she said.
Opponents also are trying to press Parliament to reverse the government's health measures with two petitions that collected enough signatures to force the issue before lawmakers. One petition that crossed the threshold before a Friday deadline urges ending the requirement to present CovidCheck documentation before entering private companies or public institutions like hospitals or schools. A second petition seeks to organise a public referendum on whether to keep or void CovidCheck requirements.
On Wednesday, a Luxembourg administrative judge dismissed a legal challenge by four civil servants against the CovidCheck requirement after they were refused entry to their workplace. Several unions had supported the employees, who said they were threatened with a 30% pay cut or disciplinary proceedings due to an unauthorised absence from work. The court ruling came on the same day that Luxembourg registered its highest number of daily infections in nearly a year.