Infection numbers in Luxembourg spiked following the relaxation of many coronavirus restrictions in mid-June. This included the lifting of curfew, allowing larger gatherings and introducing the so-called CovidCheck for immunity. A 7-day infection rate rose to 115 per 100,000 inhabitants last week, making Luxembourg a red-listed country on the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s virus dashboard. Still, the number of people in hospital is comparatively low, at 20 as of 22 July, the latest data available, including five patients in intensive care.
But there is a risk that the still active circulation of the virus will lead to mutations resulting in variants that are more resistant to vaccines.
In the last two Revilux studies carried out by the LNS, the Gamma variant is in the majority in the country. Is this a one-off phenomenon or is this variant destined to remain dominant?
Dr Trung Nguyen: Following National Day, there were one or two big clusters of about 60 people with the Gamma variant. Then people went home and infected other people... But since Luxembourg is a small country and the virus circulates weakly, one big cluster is enough to completely change the results.
But the Delta variant is much more contagious than the other variants. And, although this is masked by the Gamma variant, it is growing [in number].
The Delta variant should therefore become dominant again in the long term?
Luxembourg is the only country where the Gamma variant is dominant. In the majority of other European countries, the Delta variant is dominant. This is the case in France, Germany and Belgium. So in a few weeks, the Delta variant will overwhelm the others. But we don't know how long it will take to switch over.
In general, hospitalisations are increasing slightly (20 people hospitalised, including 5 in intensive care) and infections are stabilising on a fairly high plateau. Is the situation worrying?
With an infection rate of over 100 per 100,000 inhabitants, Luxembourg is currently considered a red zone, so the situation is uncomfortable.
But 80% of those infected are under 40. And the advantage is that, from now on, vulnerable people are vaccinated. So even if a few people are hospitalised, this remains very low in intensive care. Capacity is still very high, with only 5% of intensive care beds being used at the moment.
But the virus is still circulating, and the risk is that it will mutate. And while vaccines work well on variants, there is the possibility of evolution, with more resistance to vaccines.
In other European countries, the epidemic is regaining momentum, and some are strengthening anti-covid measures. Is Luxembourg in a better situation?
Luxembourg's strategy has been different from that of other countries. Some, like the UK, have decided to give a first dose to as many people as possible. But by seeking collective immunity, people at risk are less protected.
In Luxembourg, the idea was to favour the population at risk, by giving two doses to the most vulnerable and most exposed. Hence the reduction in hospitalisations.
But it is now necessary to vaccinate the youngest people during the summer. Because at the end of August, with the end of the holidays, the start of the new school year and colder temperatures in the autumn, the virus is likely to circulate even more.