Scientists warn virus levels still high as Luxembourg eases rules
The coronavirus is still likely circulating at high levels through Luxembourg, scientists warned on Wednesday, a day after the country's leaders decided to soften the national anti-virus lockdown.
A reliable indicator of the coronavirus's presence found in wastewater remained "high and comparable to those observed during the last two weeks of 2020, indicating a still important prevalence of the virus", the report from the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology said.
Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said on Tuesday that the government would allow shops and schools to reopen and shorten an overnight curfew after current, tougher restrictions expire on Sunday. Restaurants, bars and hotels will remain shut at least until the end of the month.
"We know that these restrictions are too much for people", Bettel said
That decision came despite an earlier piece of advice urging even more draconian measures to reduce the persistently high level of infection. "It is necessary to strengthen measures in order to avoid a new wave of infections," the report by the Health Ministry said.
An additional 281 people were found to have tested positive for Covid-19 on Tuesday and three died, raising the country's death toll from the disease to 517, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday. The country last weekend reported its first cases of the new, more-contagious mutation of the virus initially found in the UK.
Luxembourg's plan to ease restrictions was sharply criticised by a top politician in the neighbouring German state of Saarland, a broadcaster there reported on Wednesday.
"To be honest, I think it is irresponsible to relax with such high virus incidence figures", Saarland Prime Minister Tobias Hans told Saarland Runkfunk. German state and national governments were planning to increase restrictions on businesses and personal movement. Germany's daily death count topped 1,000 on Wednesday for only the second time since the start of the pandemic in March.
Luxembourg and Germany also were on different sides of the worldwide struggle to secure and use as many of the approved vaccines against Covid-19 as quickly as possible. Scientists believe a vaccination rate of 70% or more of a population is needed to immunise so many people that the disease can no longer spread.
The European Union's collective procurement and distribution plan has allocated Luxembourg enough to vaccinate 36,000 people by the end of March, or about 6% of the population.
Luxembourg sought to purchase additional doses of the vaccine developed by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer of the US and Germany's BioNTech but has received no response, Health Minister Paulette Lenert said on Wednesday.
Germany, which promised BioNTech up to €375 million in government money to develop the vaccine, could order more because it helped fund its launch, Lenert said.
Europe's medicines regulator on Wednesday approved a second injection developed by Moderna. The European Commission authorised deploying the vaccine across the bloc.
The EU recently announced that it would trigger an option for 100 million additional doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, raising the total from the companies to 300 million. It is also negotiating a deal that could as much as double that amount, according to Bloomberg. The bloc has ordered 160 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, the company said last month.
The first residents of Luxembourg's nursing and care homes for the elderly received inoculations on Wednesday, the government said.
The shots administered at a Luxembourg City home will be expanded to 10 other care homes around the country within the next eight days, the government said. About 6,200 residents live in the country's 52 care homes, which also employ more than 15,000 health workers and others.
(Additional reporting by Yannick Lambert)