In Luxembourg, a successful strategy to fight the pandemic

A member of the medical staff works with samples at a Covid-19 drive-in station in Luxembourg on May 27.

A pandemic plan, drawn up in January, when few European countries were concerned about the risk; 50 masks distributed to each inhabitant and orders for a total of 69 million; hundreds of hotel rooms available to border workers to prevent the breakdown of the hospital system; a project undergoing generalized population testing. And, ultimately, one of the lowest mortality rates among the affected countries: the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg will undoubtedly have been the laboratory for effective management of the risks associated with Covid-19.

On this day, the sun is shining on Place d’Armes, in the heart of the capital. The restaurants were able to reopen on May 29, earlier than expected, and some tourists take the opportunity to taste the simple joys of deconfinement on the terrace. The small country of 620,000 inhabitants, wedged between Germany, France and Belgium, has not registered any deaths since May 25 and, on June 8, there was only one patient in intensive care. If the capacity of emergency services in hospitals has been increased preventively from 100 to 300 beds, it will have mainly served to accommodate a few dozen patients from the Great East of France, all returned home cured, with the exception of one only.

At the seat of the Grand Ducal government, established in a small palace built for Marie-Thérèse of Austria – who was also duchess of Luxembourg -, the Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel, gets out of his BMW with a mask in national colors, initialed with a “Moien”, the formula by which the locals greet each other throughout the day.

Anticipation of the disaster scenario

Voluble, rarely completing one of the many words he wants to share, the liberal leader, at the head of a coalition with the Socialists and the Greens, is satisfied with his record: “ When I saw what was going on in Wuhan earlier this year, I asked our High Commissioner for National Protection [un haut fonctionnaire chargé de la gestion des crises] to develop a kind of disaster scenario; this has helped us a lot to stop the transmission of the virus. “

After a first case from Italy and detected on February 29, strict confinement was decreed on March 15 and a state of crisis three days later, in order to limit economic activity. The country already has around forty million masks, but, with the help of the Chinese and Korean immigrant communities, it will get some 30 million more, at a time when the market is not still totally tense. He will also have respirators when neighboring states are forced to come up with bids to get them, urgently, at Findel-Luxembourg airport, where the freight company Cargolux has been able to maintain links with China.

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The great fear of the authorities then relates to a possible saturation of the hospital system, where 60% of nursing staff come from neighboring countries. Strict border controls risk discouraging French, Belgians and Germans, who will sometimes take more than 90 minutes to travel 30 or 40 kilometers. “I called Emmanuel [Macron], Angela [Merkel] and Sophie [Wilmès] to tell them that if they did nothing, my country would risk dying. They listened to me “, says the Prime Minister, very unhappy with the stampede which has appeared at European level.

“It is not Europe that is at stake. It is not she who screwed up, but the States which refuse to give her more powers “, Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister

“I was hoping things would be a little coordinated. Some leaders replied that it was not Brussels that was going to decide for them …, laments Xavier Bettel. And it is not Europe that is at stake. She’s not the one who messed up, but states that refuse to give it more powers. And who would tell me no if I offered to give her more tomorrow. “

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To prevent a possible shortage of hospital staff, the Grand Duchy also offered cross-border hotel rooms, where they could stay with their families if they wished. Some 1,400 caregivers benefited. All foreign workers also benefited from the free distribution of masks, as did the locals.

In order to prevent contamination in hospitals or in the generalists’ waiting room, the government had also installed fifteen decentralized systematic screening centers. And he now intends to complete a generalized test operation for all residents and cross-border residents.

So far, the small (and rich) country has mobilized some 13 billion euros, including 10 devoted to short-time working, aid for businesses and the self-employed. A vast recovery plan is also in preparation, based on loans. At the head of a privileged country, which is a haven of peace for the financial sector and, also, one of the main beneficiaries of European added value, Xavier Bettel says he does not want to forget the others: “I don’t understand how long it takes us to agree on aid plans. But Angela Merkel has shown the way “, he said, in reference to the support given by the German chancellor to the recovery plan being negotiated within the European Union for an amount of 750 billion euros, financed by the issue of a common debt.

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