The increase in the number of people who have tested positive for covid-19 in the grand duchy is “alarming but not shocking” says Xavier Bettel (DP). Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, the prime minister said that the rise in infections is “linear and not exponential”, and that hospitals are currently coping comfortably with the numbers. “But our priority will always be to protect the health system,” Bettel stressed. “We want to avoid any stress on its capacity.”
Regarding criticism that Luxembourg’s large-scale testing programme is responsible for the high number of infections being reported, Bettel said that “less testing is not an option.” The grand duchy was displaying solidarity in testing as broadly as possible and should not be punished for following European Commission advice, the prime minister said, referring to Luxembourg being placed on high risk lists by Germany and Belgium and residents of the grand duchy being banned from entering Denmark.
“We are convinced that testing is the right strategy…we can’t risk our population because other countries see us as a risk,” said Bettel. Though he did admit that the “numbers reflect what is happening on the ground” and that they cannot be sugar-coated.
Health minister Paulette Lenert (LSAP) explained that in any case the rise in numbers is not simply down to the government’s large-scale testing policy that is inviting everyone to take a swab test every few weeks.
Indeed, Lenert said that although 66% of tests carried out in Luxembourg were now from the large-scale project, those tests accounted for just 15% of the positive cases, while those people who have been tested because they were displaying symptoms of the coronavirus accounted for 85% of infections. The health minister also pointed out that Luxembourg was one of the few countries that allowed people to take a test even if they were displaying only mild symptoms. “Earlier testing of those with mild symptoms is essential to break contact chains as soon as possible,” said Lenert.
Latest weekly figures for the period from 7 to 12 July have shown there were 402 new cases, 62% of which were recognized as a result of symptomatic testing. Significantly, 41% already those who tested positive had already been in quarantine, so the chances of them having infected others was low. Lenert said that showed that the government was taking the right course of action. The average age of new infections over the week in question was 35.
The ministry is continuing its manual tracing efforts, with teams making telephone calls to anyone who has been in contact with someone who has tested positive. “It is exhausting work,” she said, explaining that teams have been working late into the night to avoid a backlog. Bettel again seemed to dismiss the introduction of a tracing app in the immediate future. The government is in talks to examine the viability of an app, but Bettel was adamant that “a tracing app is not a magic recipe. It can only be complimentary to manual tracing.” Lenert did say however that manual tracing “obviously has its limits”.
Bettel said that scientists are still analysing the data from the last week and will only report on their results later this week. Parliament is due to vote on a new covid law that will on Thursday. But Bettel said that if by the end of the week the numbers continue to be alarming he will call a cabinet meeting for Sunday--“if that happens, it won’t be to announce a relaxation, I can tell you that.”