CovidCheck limited to vaccinated, recovered

The CovidCheck system will work only for vaccination and recovery certificates in the leisure sector under plans presented on 29 November Photo: Guy Wolff/Maison Moderne

The CovidCheck system will work only for vaccination and recovery certificates in the leisure sector under plans presented on 29 November Photo: Guy Wolff/Maison Moderne

Luxembourg will limit the CovidCheck system to people who are vaccinated against the coronavirus or recovered from an infection, largely excluding people who aren’t vaccinated from public life.

Prime minister Xavier Bettel (DP) and health minister Paulette Lenert (LSAP) on Monday said the CovidCheck system would no longer work for people with a test certificate for leisure activities, such as going to the restaurant, the cinema, theatre or other venues applying the system.

Under the plans, venues will also be carrying out ID checks to prevent fraud. Luxembourg in November applied the CovidCheck regime across the hospitality sector. This meant that business could resume without restrictions as long as all guests are able to show a valid vaccination, recovery or test certificate.

However, venues weren’t allowed to check IDs prompting concern of abuse and fraud. Ministers in November urged members of the public to report violations or forgeries. With ID checks, if a guest is caught with a forgery, for example during spot checks carried out by police, both the individual and the organiser will be held responsible. 

The CovidCheck limited to those vaccinated and recovered will apply to indoor and outdoor settings.

The government in January also plans to make CovidCheck mandatory in the workplace. It had up until now left it up to companies to decide whether they want to introduce the measure. Talks with employer and employee organisations will start on Tuesday, Bettel said, also urging companies to allow working from home where possible. At the workplace, testing will remain an option for a valid CovidCheck certificate.

During a government meeting on Friday, ministers had already agreed to reduce the validity of test certificates, from 72 hours to 48 hours for PCR tests and from 48 hours to 24 hours for rapid antigen tests.

The extra measures are set to come into force as soon as possible--pending confirmation by parliament--and remain in place until February. Aid to companies impacted by the pandemic will be extended by two months, Bettel said, in particular in the events and hospitality industry.

Omicron uncertainty

Bettel and Lenert spoke as countries enforced travel bans over the omicron variant of the coronavirus and tightened pandemic restrictions. Luxembourg on Friday imposed mandatory quarantine for anyone travelling to the grand duchy who stayed in southern Africa two weeks prior to their arrival.

“We don’t know what we’re facing,” Lenert said about the omicron variant and how the pandemic would develop.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control on 26 November said the omicron variant is characterised by 30 changes and the “most divergent variant that has been detected in significant numbers during the pandemic so far, which raises concerns that it may be associated with increased transmissibility, significant reduction in vaccine effectiveness and increased risk for reinfections.”

The ECDC has classified the B.1.1.529 variant as a variant of concern but said there remains “considerable uncertainty” over the properties of the omicron variant. Vaccine maker Moderna on Sunday said it could roll out a reformulated vaccine against the omicron variant early next year, but it’s not clear whether new formulas will even be needed.

“Regardless of this variant, there is reason for caution,” Bettel said. “What we want to avoid is lockdown,” he said, adding that Luxembourg would not be introducing a curfew, banning events or other steps taken by the grand duchy’s neighbours.

Belgium made working from home mandatory four days a week until 19 December under new rules. The obligation to wear a mask will be expanded, with an 11pm curfew for restaurants and only six people allowed per table. Nightclubs will have to close until mid-December with private parties also banned.

France made masks mandatory again in indoor settings, including cinemas, as well as some outdoor events, such as Christmas markets, even when showing a valid vaccination, recovery or test certificate. Adults will have to get their booster shot for their vaccination certificate to remain valid.

In Germany, restrictions vary depending on the state but the neighbouring Saarland re-introduced mask mandates and limited private contacts for unvaccinated people. Visitors can only gain access to restaurants, gyms and other venues if they are vaccinated or recovered from the coronavirus, in addition to passing a rapid antigen test on site.

Austria last week imposed a partial lockdown with the Netherlands and other EU countries clamping down on public life.

Protect healthcare sector

“Vaccination alone isn’t enough,” Lenert said, urging people to limit their contacts. Events with fewer than 10 people can take place without restrictions. Events between 10 and 50 people can go ahead with distancing rules, while gatherings of up to 200 people can function under a so-called 3G CovidCheck (vaccinated, recovered, tested). Events of more than 200 people are limited to 2G (vaccinated, recovered).

Around 77% of the eligible population are vaccinated, the government said in a weekly virus update on 24 November, far from an 85% target needed before Luxembourg will consider lifting pandemic restrictions.

Pharmacies will in future be able to administer shots with the government also planning a vaccination week to get more people inoculated.

Luxembourg is in the process of rolling out booster shots for all over 18-year-olds, available six months after the completing of the first vaccination schedule. People who have received the AstraZeneca jab will be invited after four months. The country is yet to decide when to start offering the vaccine to 5 to 11-year-olds after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) last week approved the Biontech/Pfizer vaccine for use on that age group.

The measures announced on Monday aim to increase the vaccination rate, reduce the infection rate and protect people who aren’t vaccinated, Bettel said. While the healthcare sector is coping currently, “this can change at any moment,” the premier said.