Luxembourgh Times

Vaccinations almost double as Covid-19 recedes

New infections fell by 16% last week compared to the previous seven-day period

52-year-old health minister Lenert receiving her first vaccine dose

52-year-old health minister Lenert receiving her first vaccine dose © Photo credit: SIP / Luc Deflorenne

The number of Covid-19 vaccinations in Luxembourg almost doubled last week as the country handed out a record 40,000 shots including to Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, while the number of new infections continued to drop despite a gradual easing of social distancing measures.

Wednesday's 182 new infections show the coronavirus has far from disappeared from the Grand Duchy. Yet the trend is down, with the number of new infections dropping 16.4% over the past week from a week earlier.

Hospital admissions - the government's most important indicator for easing health measures - remain stable too, with 56 people in standard and 32 in intensive care, down slightly from 58 and 34 respectively.

However, people admitted to hospital tend to be younger than during the first wave of the pandemic, Health Minister Paulette Lenert has said. The vaccines are shielding older people, while new mutations cause more severe symptoms in younger people, triggering longer hospital stays.

Lenert, aged 52, received a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine herself on Wednesday, joining a group of 255,678 people who have had at least one shot of one of the available vaccines. Bettel had received the AstraZeneca serum, which has been given out to 31,000 younger volunteers.

Long one of the laggards in the EU, Luxembourg's vaccine rollout is now closing in on the bloc's average, with 28.7% of the Grand Duchy's overall population having received at least one dose compared to the EU average of 28.8%, according to research project Our World in Data.

Test yourself

As a result of the improving data, Bettel last week announced the most comprehensive easing of restrictions since the measures were reintroduced in November, after an earlier period of relief over the summer months last year when the disease was less prevalent.

As of 16 May, restaurants may host customers indoors again after outdoor spaces had earlier reopened. Up to four people can sit together inside as long as they can show a negative test result, according to a new draft law.

To facilitate the testing in businesses, the government bought 17 million rapid tests from two separate Chinese manufacturers at a cost of between 1.3€ and 1.8€ per test, Lenert said in response to a parliamentary question from Pirate Party lawmakers Marc Goergen and Sven Clement.

The country's roughly 2,700 hospitality businesses will receive 500,000 self-tests their customers can use, Labour Minister Dan Kersch told members of Parliament on Tuesday. After that supply, averaging 185 tests per establishment, runs out, restaurants will be on their own.

Lawmakers are expected to approve the latest set of measures on Friday.

Death wave

New statistics show that a wave of death has swept across Europe since the start of the pandemic. By the end of 2020, the European Union had recorded 545,000 more deaths compared to the average of the previous four years, EU statistics agency Eurostat said in a release on Wednesday.

When the pandemic began in March, the number of deaths rose rapidly in some European countries, Eurostat said. The peak of additional deaths in the first wave was the highest in April 2020, with an average increase of 25.1 %.

The indicator skyrocketed during the autumn wave to an average of 40.7%, Eurostat found. Some countries registered much higher rates, with Bulgaria, Poland and Slovenia recording over 90% more additional deaths.

Luxembourg reached its high watermark in excess deaths in November, too, with 45% more additional deaths, according to Eurostat. The pandemic has killed over 700,000 people in the EU, according to Our World in Data.