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Visit of the Prime Minister to meet researchers working on COVID-19

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Published on Thursday, 14 October 2021

On 5 October, on Campus Belval, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg Xavier Bettel along with Minister for Higher Education and Research Claude Meisch met with researchers from the different institutions involved in the Research Luxembourg COVID-19 Taskforce to discuss actions carried out during the pandemic, important milestones of the collaboration between the government and scientists, as well as ongoing research projects.

Navigating the crisis through science

The COVID-19 pandemic sparked an unprecedented mobilisation and collaboration between many researchers, gathered under the umbrella of Research Luxembourg, and the Government of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. In record time, public research institutes and the Government launched a series of newly funded research initiatives to respond to the COVID crisis.

Between March and May 2020, Research Luxembourg brought together researchers from the main actors in Luxembourg public research, such as the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) of the University of Luxembourg and the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH), in order to come up with a coordinated strategy to study the virus and help policy makers tackle the pandemic.

Mobilising research: One team to find answers and formulate solutions

Among the actions taken, large-scale testing, a plan that allowed to test up to 10% of the population every week, yielded effective outcomes. This was a critical measure to keep the pandemic under control. “Now we know that it was the only way to deal with the pandemic,” explained  Prof Ulf Nehrbass, Chief Executive Officer of Luxembourg Institute of Health during the visit. “Non-symptomatic people were infectious and we had to test everybody to have a complete overview. In phase 1, large-scale testing halved the number of severe cases. We actually reduced 43% of the overall number of cases.”

The pandemic has shown that, under the umbrella of Research Luxembourg, researchers from the different institutions of the country have the capacity to mobilise, structure and respond quickly. This attitude is the result of a team spirit developed in a small country with excellent researchers and infrastructures. “We went from having numerous questions to providing data as well as empirical evidence, then coming up with answers and formulating solutions. This was all achieved in record time,” detailed Prof. Paul Wilmes, head of the Systems Ecology at the LCSB and spokesperson of the COVID-19 Taskforce, while showing Prime Minister Xavier Bettel around his lab in the BioTech I building in Belval.

Several of the ongoing research projects were also presented at the end of the lab visit such as the CON-VINCE study coordinated by Prof. Rejko Krüger, head of the Translational Neuroscience group at the LCSB and of the Transversal Translational Medicine department at the LIH, and the continuing workflow for daily simulations on evolution, impact and spread of the COVID-19 outbreak led by Professors Alexander Skupin and Jorge Goncalvesfrom the LCSB. The upcoming CoVaLux study focusing on long COVID and vaccination was introduced as well.

Scientists and policy makers working together

In Luxembourg, researchers have endeavoured to gather and disseminate as much information as possible relevant to COVID in the policy-making process. It is one of the countries where the relationship between the scientific community and policy makers during the pandemic has been effective. The Government called on and took into account the advice of scientists in many disciplines. “Mutual respect and listening was the best way to approach this crisis, as both the Government and Research Luxembourg were engaged in the same mission,” highlighted Prime Minister Xavier Bettel at the end of the visit. The role of science throughout this crisis was also mentioned in the State of the Nation declaration on 12 October: contributions of Research Luxembourg, such as the large-scale testing, the gain of scientific knowledge about the virus and the CoVaLux project to study long-term consequences of the disease, figured prominently in the Prime Minister’s address to the country.

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On the same topic, see the news on the websites of the LIH and Research Luxembourg.

Credits for the picture: ©ME