“The strategy has paid off,” Bettel stated when opening the briefing, adding that “the situation has improved a lot compared to a couple of weeks ago” as the average number of new infections per day had gone down to 137 over the past two weeks.
However, despite these positive statistics, the situation remained tense, particularly with regards to new mutations of the virus that are said to spread at a much faster pace, Bettel added.
Although there are currently only 12 cases of the so-called British variant circulating in the grand duchy and no other mutations had been discovered so far, “we need to be prepared for higher numbers of infections, even if it isn’t the case yet,” health minister Lenert warned.
Because of the uncertainty surrounding the development of different variant strains, the PM therefore announced that the restrictions currently in place would be extended until at least 21 February.
As a reminder, the measures currently in place include a ban on alcohol consumption in public spaces, the 11pm-6am curfew, a maximum of two guests from the same household as well as specific rules for public gatherings, sports and the number of customers allowed in shops.
No end in sight for hospitality sector
However, perhaps most importantly, the renewed extension should be a particularly hard pill to swallow for the hospitality sector, as restaurants and bars--unable to receive clientele since 26 November--will have to remain closed for another three weeks and potentially even beyond 21 February, as Lenert admitted that it could not be excluded that the current measures would have to remain in place for months to come, depending on the evolution of the situation.
Negative test results when returning to the grand duchy
When returning to Luxembourg from abroad, travellers might soon be obliged to provide a negative test result, Bettel stated. “We cannot forbid people to travel, but if they do they should be aware of the restrictions they may be subject to upon return,” he said.
However, details on this are to be discussed during a government meeting on Monday afternoon and communicated to the public thereafter.
Nevertheless, Bettel underlined that borders had to stay open, particularly for goods transport and cross-border workers, as Luxembourg’s healthcare system heavily depends on the latter.
As for vaccinations, Lenert gave a brief overview of the current numbers, saying that around 5,600 people had been vaccinated so far, and 40.9% of those invited had taken up the offer, compared to only 31.3% on Wednesday. However, Lenert underlined that the deadline of the invitations was 24 January, so it remains to be seen how many people will actually take advantage of the offer.
Although the health minister is supposed to present details on the second phase of the vaccination strategy next week, she emphasised that it was difficult to plan ahead due to delivery delays. A Moderna delivery for 25 January, for instance, has already been delayed until 30 January, Lenert said.
Another reason why Luxembourg might be behind others in the vaccination campaign is that every individual in the grand duchy receiving the first dose is automatically guaranteed the second dose, which isn’t necessarily the case in other countries, Lenert explained.
Bettel also mentioned that although the AstraZeneca vaccine will only get approved at the end of the month, the European Commission is already trying to preorder a certain amount of doses so that once approved, the vaccines can be used right away.
Asked about the possibility of a vaccine passport, Bettel reiterated that the choice on whether to get vaccinated should remain a personal one. However, he warned that other countries may start to consider the vaccine passport as an alternative to a negative PCR test result when returning from abroad.