Vaccinations off to slow start in Luxembourg
Luxembourg's vaccination campaign is off to a slow start after the UK, the US and others have started immunising their population against the coronavirus and it is unclear when and how much of the cure will arrive.
The country is gearing up for a stricter lockdown to suppress Covid-19, with parliament set to approve new restrictions on Thursday, just before Christmas, in time for the measures to come into force on Friday.
A flight ban with the United Kingdom that was supposed to last nearly two weeks also is scheduled to end on Thursday.
The Grand Duchy will likely vaccinate its first 1,300 residents from Monday, 28 December over a period of three days, Luc Feller, the High Commissioner for National Protection, told public broadcaster 100,7 on Wednesday, but it is not clear what will happen after that.
"Once the vaccine arrives here in Luxembourg, we know how much is available, it will start very slowly in the beginning. The figures [of expected deliveries] we are currently seeing are decreasing every day", Feller, who heads the national security body, said.
The European Medicines Agency approved the BioNtech/Pfizer vaccine on Monday after pressure from governments, including Germany, to bring forward the approval date from 27 December as other nations are already using the vaccine. Approvals for other vaccines, such as those by Moderna and AstraZeneca, are also in the pipeline.
The UK approved the vaccine on 2 December and the US followed suit on 11 December, with both countries rolling out their respective campaigns after the regulators consented to it.
In Luxembourg, Feller expects there to be enough vaccines for 6,000 people by the end of January. Some vaccines are to be delivered to hospitals in early January, he said, and mobile teams will then be deployed in nursing homes.
Feller said he hoped that the vaccination centre in Limpertsberg will be able to open fully in mid-January after it closes down again after the first three days. The opening time of the remaining planned vaccination centres, scattered across the country, is still uncertain, he said.
Home before nine
Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and Health Minister Paulette Lenert on Monday launched a further tightening of the social restrictions to stop the spread of the virus that would last until 10 January, and parliament is likely to pass the package in a vote on Thursday.
Amongst the new measures are a curfew from 2100 instead of 2300 hrs, the closure of non-essential shops, a temporary switch to remote schooling, and higher fines for breaches of the rules.
Separately, the National Health Laboratory (LNS) said in its weekly bulletin that it had so far not detected the more transmissible virus mutation that some scientists believe originated in Kent in the UK, basing itself on the sequencing of roughly 10% of patients up until the end of November.
The discovery of the mutation has prompted more than 40 countries, including Luxembourg, to cut or reduce transport links with the UK. Luxembourg officials on Monday ordered an end to all flights to or from the UK until 3 January. But Luxembourg reversed that decision on Wednesday.
Flights between Luxembourg and Great Britain can operate again from Thursday as long as passengers entering the Grand Duchy can show the results of a recent, negative coronavirus test. The negative PCR or antigen test must be taken no more than 48 hours before the flight, though people who were tested up to three days in advance can board with the understanding they must take a new PCR test after arriving at Luxembourg's airport and then quarantine until the result is available.
On Wednesday, Luxembourg reported 400 new infections and five further deaths. The death toll since Covid-19 arrived in Luxembourg in March is 458. Their average age was 83, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.
Disease trends were already improving before Luxembourg leaders on Monday announced more restrictions on movement and gatherings, the Health Ministry said in a new report. The number of people testing positive for Covid-19, total confirmed infections, deaths, hospitalisations and cases adjusted for population were all lower over the week that ended on Sunday than the previous week, the ministry said on Wednesday.
Nor were there any new cases last week, before the current holiday period, of coronavirus being passed within schools and infecting fellow classmates or teachers, the Education Ministry said.
Last week, Luxembourg's police handed out 15o fines to individuals for Covid breaches, mostly for not respecting the curfew, out of just around 310 checks, the police said in an update.