Prime minister Xavier Bettel (DP) and health minister Paulette Lenert (LSAP) last week in parliament both said the grand duchy would not make vaccination against the coronavirus mandatory. They both urged, however, that vaccination is the best solution out of the crisis.
Lawmakers on 14 September voted into force the next round of pandemic restrictions, including extending the CovidCheck system until at least 18 October, requiring a certificate of vaccination, negative test or recovery to take part in larger events or a number of indoor and outdoor activities.
“The goal is to not make covid-19 vaccination compulsory for citizens. The aim is also to not establish, over time, discrimination between vaccinated and unvaccinated people,” the petition author says in the document published on 17 September. “It is absolutely necessary to leave free will to citizens concerning the medical field.”
At the time of publication, the petition had garnered 6,783 signatures, more than the 4,500 minimum threshold to prompt a discussion with members of parliament and representatives of the government.
Vaccine means end of free testing
At the same time as upholding the CovidCheck system, Luxembourg is winding down its large-scale testing system, which had allowed citizens to get tested for free on demand since June. Valid for 72 hours, the PCR tests enabled unvaccinated people to pass the CovidCheck.
Since everyone has had the opportunity to get vaccinated, free tests are no longer needed, the government has argued. Tests prescribed by doctors--for example for people who are immunocompromised and cannot get vaccinated, or who have symptoms--will continue to be covered by health insurance. PCR tests will also be free of charge in case of a cluster of infections, for example in a school or nursing home.
A human rights body ahead of the vote in parliament had spoken out against charging for tests. “While financial pressure may lead some people to be vaccinated, others will certainly not be convinced and risk being further marginalised,” the Consultative Human Rights Commission said in an opinion on the laws voted into force last week.
As of 17 September, 399,522 people in Luxembourg were fully vaccinated against Sars-CoV-2. But while the age bracket over 50 boasts a vaccination rate of more than 80%, those aged 18 to 50 lag behind at just around 50-60%. This age group makes up half of new infections.
Around a third of patients admitted to hospital for treatment of a coronavirus infection last week were vaccinated. But all patients in intensive care weren’t inoculated.
CovidCheck in schools, at work
The CovidCheck system is also coming into force, although in a limited capacity, in schools with the new school year. In case of a positive case in a class, pupils must be able to show that they are vaccinated or agree to regular self-tests until a six-day isolation period ends with a free PCR test. Unvaccinated pupils who refuse to self-test won’t be allowed to attend school.
“The message of this rentrée is clear: If we get tested and vaccinated, we can largely operate normally,” education minister Claude Meisch (DP) said during a 2 September press conference.
The head of the CHL hospital in August said that he would only be hiring vaccinated healthcare staff moving forward and relegate unvaccinated staff to roles that do not involve patient contact. Despite there being no mandatory vaccination in Luxembourg, health minister Lenert did not rule out that employers could introduce an obligation via the job contract.
American asset management company Pimco also required its employees to get vaccinated before returning to the office, including at its Luxembourg branch.
A labour lawyer at the time said that this violates the right to physical integrity of staff and would require the employer to collect medical data it is not supposed to have access to.
The petition is open for signature for another 39 days.