POLITICS & INSTITUTIONS - ECONOMY

Hopes set on April as Lux extends virus measures again



1gov_sipjean-christophe_verhaegen.jpg

During a press conference on Friday, prime minister Xavier Bettel (DP) and health minister Paulette Lenert (LSAP) announced yet another extension of the measures currently in place to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. Photo: SIP/ Christophe Verhaegen 

During a press conference on Friday, prime minister Xavier Bettel (DP) and health minister Paulette Lenert (LSAP) gave updates on the current measures in place, the evolution of covid-19 infections in the grand duchy as well as the ongoing vaccination campaign. 

"The situation is stable despite the variant strains. We are not seeing an exponential increase of infections due to different virus strains,” Bettel stated opening the briefing whereas health minister Lenert also reassured that “the situation is not dramatic at the moment, despite a slight spike in infections.”

Nevertheless, as the grand duchy’s current coronavirus restrictions are set to expire on 14 March, the government on Friday decided to keep the measures in place for another three weeks until 2 April. A law is set to be introduced in parliament next week, so that lawmakers can vote on the text in time.  

The current rules in place include a curfew between 11pm and 6am, as well as a restriction meaning only two people from the same household that can visit someone else at home. Groups of more than four people meeting outdoors must wear masks and keep 2 metres apart. Groups of more than ten must be seated and gatherings of more than 100 are banned, except for protests.

A light at the end of the tunnel for restaurants, bars and cafés? 

It is yet another hard pill to swallow for the hospitality sector. Bars, restaurants and cafés have been closed for almost four months, since 26 November. With spring as well as the Easter break just around the corner and temperatures slowing creeping up, trade group Horesca, last week called for an immediate reopening of terraces as well as an end to the ban on alcohol consumption in public. However, minister for SMEs, Lex Delles (DP), quickly responded stating that at the current time, with infections still on the rise, it was impossible to reopen restaurants and bars.

During the press conference on Friday, prime minister Bettel said that he was aware of the collateral damage caused by yet another extension of the restrictions, particularly for those of the hospitality sector. He added however that “this is the first time in months that we have real perspectives to reopen in the near future,” as government was hoping to be able to reopen restaurants and the like in April –- if infection numbers permit –- although under stricter measures. One option would be to only open terraces, whereas considering Luxembourg’s changing weather conditions, this might not be a viable solution.  

“I would be more than happy if we could soon find covid-19 in history books rather than in the news,” the prime minister added. 

Vaccination updates

Giving the latest update on Luxembourg’s vaccination campaign, Bettel said that rumours that Luxembourg was hoarding vaccines instead of innoculating its population were not true as all available doses were being used in the grand duchy. 

He also added that April would be a particularly decisive month with over 73,000 people to receive inoculations if all goes as planned with regards to vaccine deliveries.

After the superior council for infectious diseases had released recommendations that those over 65 could get inoculated with the AstraZeneca vaccine, these recommendations were adopted by government on Friday. 

As a reminder, the AstraZeneca vaccine was initially planned to innoculate only those under 65. Hence, earlier this week, Luxembourg started running several of its vaccination phases in parallel by sending out the first invitations for phase 5a (people aged 55 to 64 with no underlying conditions, beginning with the oldest) at the same time as phase 2 is still ongoing.

However, as AstraZeneca has now been approved to innoculate over 65s, the vaccination campaign is going back to its “normal rhythm”, Lenert explained, whereas those of phase 5a who have already received an invitation will be able to get their jabs anyway.