Government moves to declare state of emergency


Prime minister Xavier Bettel said he will ask parliament to agree to a three-month duration of the state of emergency, 17 March 2020Image: Screengrab 

Prime minister Xavier Bettel (DP) on Tuesday afternoon announced his intention to put the grand duchy on state of emergency footing.

Addressing parliament, Bettel said that he had consulted the grand duke and the Chamber of Deputies’ conference of presidents. The constitution states in article 32.4 that a state of emergency can be declared “in the event of an international crisis, real threats to the vital interests of all or part of the population or imminent danger resulting from serious breaches of public security.”

It means the government can impose measures that can deviate from existing laws, though the constitution also states that “they must be necessary, adequate and proportionate to the purpose being pursued” and must also comply with the constitution and international treaties.

Bettel has said he will ask parliament to agree to a three-month duration of the state of emergency.

Precisely what new regulations could be introduced under the state of emergency has not yet been decided. Some sort of "curfew" may be required. CSV opposition leader Martine Hansen certainly seemed to suggest that strict regulation of when and where people are allowed to be in public spaces was required.

Help for businesses

Bettel also used his address to announce that building sites in the grand duchy should close as soon as possible, and by Friday 20 March at the latest. In addition, playgrounds had been closed--on Monday as the good weather broke and the first day of school closures came into effect, there had been reports that some playgrounds were crowded with families despite advice to maintain social distancing.

The prime minister said that the economic impact of the crisis would be significant, but added that banks had strong capital and that state finances were in rude health. Businesses were being allowed to delay any advance social security and tax payments for the first and second quarters. The state is taking on 80% of the salaries of those workers affected by their company introducing part-time employment.

Bettel said that finance minister Pierre Gramegna (DP) was working on further measures to help support businesses facing difficulty because of the crisis. Hansen said that no business should be allowed to go bankrupt because of the current situation.

Another extension will permit individuals to delay handing in their tax forms until 30 June, rather than the 15 May delay previously announced.

Medical supplies stolen

Health minister Paulette Lenert (LSAP) told parliament that only 1 of the 140 infected people is in intensive care, another 6 have been hospitalised at moment. She added that she can’t say how many have been cured, as it takes at least 14 days to get over the virus.

The minister also admitted there had been delays in delivery of medical supplies, but that she is confident they would be delivered. But she has also said that some supplies have been stolen from secret storage sites, which were now being guarded by the army. The three “maisons medicales”--one for the centre, one for the south and one for the north of the country--that are being set up to diagnose and treat people with breathing difficulty will open on Wednesday morning at 8am. Anyone with symptoms should still call the government’s coronavirus hotline on tel. 8002 8080.

Lenert said that general practitioners should prioritise triage and teleconsultations where possible. 

Cross-border workers, and their families, in the health and care sectors were being offered hotel accommodation, Lenert said. Nine crèche facilities would be set up to care for the children of those workers. “Life will go on,” she concluded.

Meanwhile, as the government ramped up its #bleiftdoheim (stay at home) campaign, police units were patrolling the country to remind people of their responsibility to maintain social distancing and to limit travel to essential trips. Further controls will take place over the next days, a statement from Police Lëtzebuerg said. “If necessary, penalty notices will be filed.”