These are trying times for everyone, and I certainly don't envy those who have to make tough decisions that place restrictions on all of our lives in an attempt to curb the spread of the Coronavirus.
In an attempt to stave off the spread of the coronavirus within the Grand Duchy — and it's worth remembering that we have gone from one case 29 February, to 51 on 16 March, to a surreal 203 cases and two deaths by today, 18 March — Luxembourg's government has certainly rolled out a lot of recommendations. We even saw opposition MPs coming out in support of the government's handling of the situation in a parliamentary debate on Tuesday.
To be clear, I am not here to complain about the government's response in anyway - I'm certainly not envious of their jobs right now, nor suffering under the delusion that I could have done a better job myself. That said, there is a fair bit of confusion floating around, and some of the measures seem to me rather toothless.
"Stay home!" Well, maybe, if your boss allows, or if you want to use your holidays
From the early days of Luxembourg's coronavirus outbreak, official channels have been very clear on two things.
1. You should stay home;
2. You can't stay home if your boss tells you to work.
The government is nothing if not straight to the point here; you cannot refuse to go to work out of fear of catching the virus. / © Screenshot: https://meco.gouvernement.lu/en/dossiers/2020/coronoavirus-entreprises.html
Indeed, we have seen an definitive increase in politicians telling people to stay home. We heard it from Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and Minister of Health Paulette Lenert at yesterday's debate in the Chamber of Deputies, for example.
We have also heard it from doctors, not least through the nationally viral Facebook post by Drs. Cyril Thyx and Emile Bock, which concludes: "Please: EVERYBODY STAY AT HOME!!!". This post has been shared thousands of times.
The government has ordered the closure of non-essential commerce shops, restaurants, bars, cafes, etc. They have also urged companies to adopt teleworking as much as possible. But many are still being ordered to come to the office even if they can work from home.
Loud and clear / © Facebook screenshot: https://www.facebook.com/pg/ccahen
So while we are hearing the message to "stay at home" loud and clear, the fact of the matter remains that for many this is not a possibility. Even if technically possible, unless you have tested positive or - possibly, though this is quite unclear - show symptoms including fever and a persistent dry cough, you have no choice but to go to the office if told to do so.
One can't help but wonder, which is it? Are we to stay at home, or not? It seems the final decision lays solidly in the hands of corporate interests, and we know where they tend to stand.
Police checks and €10,000 fines!
We have recently seen it announced that police will be - and indeed are - carrying out checks to ensure that people are following the government's coronavirus measures, and that failure to comply can result in a whopping €500-10,000 fine and/or a prison sentence of between one month and two years. Serious business indeed.
And yet, what are these recommendations? Let's recap.
The public is reminded to only leave the house for the following reasons:
- procurement of food, pharmaceuticals and basic necessities;
- travel to health facilities;
- travel to your workplace for the exercise of professional or commercial activity;
- assistance and care for the elderly, minors, the dependent, the disabled and the particularly vulnerable;
- travel to financial and insurance institutions in case of emergency;
- due to force majeure or a situation of necessity;
- leisure activities (walking, jogging, playgrounds, etc.), subject to respecting an interpersonal distance of 2 meters.
(See the police's own outline, in English, here)
So, you should stay home unless you're going to work, to buy food or medicine (not that you can buy much else right now), going to the bank, or if you are out for a walk, jog, or enjoying a bit of nature time.
One can't help but wonder, what on Earth are they stopping people for? It is rather difficult to think of a situation in which any legal repercussions might result unless you are stopped and explicitly tell the officers that you're out "to walk real close to people, and spit on handrails."
"Where are you off to today?"
"On you go, thanks for doing your part."
Now, there is of course a psychological aspect to all of this. Seeing and knowing that police are stopping people will likely lead to a reduction of unnecessary excursions, so that's good.
..but wouldn't it be better to focus on actually ensuring that people aren't forced into offices, can work from home, and actually follow the ever-present mantra: "BLEIFT DOHEEM"?