Prime minister Xavier Bettel during a speech on 13 October
Photo: Matic Zorman
Parliament on Thursday voted to implement a rule of four and curfew, with prime minister Xavier Bettel saying that next week would be a “moment of truth” in the current wave of infections.
Bettel (DP) on 23 October had announced the new measures in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Luxembourg on Thursday reported 6,341 active cases of coronavirus. Infections peaked at 1,959 during the first wave of the outbreak in April. The latest numbers said 140 patients were being treated in hospital, including 21 in intensive care. Another three people died of complications caused by the virus, bringing the total number of fatalities to 150.
“The virus is out of control,” said Claude Wiseler (CSV), saying the government had acted too late. Just ten days ago, Bettel had said no new measures were needed although the government asked the public to limit their contacts on 21 October.
In addition to the rule of four--meaning that you can invite a maximum of four people into your home unless they are from the same household--the new law also:
Raises minimum fines for violations by individuals to €100. The maximum fine is upheld at €500.
Prohibits gatherings of more than 100 people, except for public protests. At gatherings between 10 and 100 people, masks and a distance of two metres between seats are mandatory. Serving food is also forbidden at events.
Limits the number of people who can share a table at a restaurant to four, unless they are from the same household, with a maximum capacity of 100.
Forces shops with a surface area of more than 400 m2 to limit access to one customer per 10 m2.
Mandates the wearing of masks at any gathering of more than four people, whether it takes place outside or inside.
Sports with teams of more than four are also prohibited under the new law, except for major league and national team competitions. School sports also remain allowed.
These rules have been voted until the end the year and will come into force at midnight on 29 October.
A curfew from 11pm to 6am until 30 November has also been voted into force, except when travelling to or from work, medical visits, urgent family visits, transiting through Luxembourg, going to the airport or train station or to walk a pet, although this is limited to within one kilometre of the place of residence.
The government will provide a shelter for homeless people during curfew near the airport in Findel, it said, including a bus service connecting the facility with Luxembourg City.
“Setting a sign”
“The aim is to limit contacts where the transmission of the virus is the highest,” rapporteur Mars Di Bartolomeo (LSAP) said. “We are not just voting a law; we are setting a sign. A sign that we all need to be more careful.”
Parliament was scheduled to vote on the laws on Wednesday, but MPs had decided to delay as the final text and report weren’t ready when the plenary session started. Opposition party ADR said it would vote against the law because of the rushed procedure but also because it opposed what it called “draconian” measures, including the curfew and higher penalties.
“Never before have so many laws had to be voted in such a short period of time,” said Di Bartolomeo, adding that the current version of the laws won’t be the last.
“We haven’t reached the end of collateral damage” caused by lockdown, Di Bartolomeo said, explaining that the current laws are aimed at preventing a second lockdown. Germany and France on Wednesday had announced partial lockdowns, closing restaurants, bars, museums, fitness studios and most other venues where people gather. Schools will remain open.
Lawmakers were wearing masks even when seated already following the new rules. Previously, they were allowed to take masks off when sitting down.
The CSV during the debate once again called for an app to support tracing. The team--which was recently stocked up with members of the army and out-of-work Luxair staff--is taking days to contact people who should quarantine, making the system inefficient, he said about manual tracing. “We are out of time,” Wiseler said.
The main opposition party also criticised the government over a lack of coherence, saying there should have been additional rules at schools, where students aren’t obligated to wear masks. The party on Wednesday had proposed 13 measures--including adding buses to school transport--but they were shot down by the parliamentary majority.
Calls for aid
The CSV abstained from the vote, saying they supported the measures in principle but felt the law was poorly planned and written. Wiseler also called on the government to already plan ahead, to have a legal text ready for new measures if needed.
Left party déi Lénk said the curfew would not help the virus from spreading as few contacts happened during this time. MP Marc Baum said a partial lockdown of four weeks with strong financial support for the sector could be more effective than “bleeding dry” restaurants and bars with a curfew and other limits.
Sven Clement of the Pirate Party also criticised the curfew, saying there was no scientific evidence that these are effective. Like Baum he warned that businesses would need further aid under the new measures and with the public being urged to stay home.
Bettel and health minister Paulette Lenert (LSAP) once again said they had reacted as soon as it become apparent the measures in place since September weren’t sufficient. “We’re in a marathon that no one signed up for and no one prepared for,” Lenert said.
The health minister also promised financial support for hospitals and efforts to recruit more staff for testing after complaints of long lines and delays of several days to receive results.
The vote passed with 31 yes votes, eight votes against the bill and 21 abstentions.