The post-COVID-19 period is going to be challenging

Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Diplomatist|June 2020

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The post-COVID-19 period is going to be challenging
Kanchi Batra, Business Editor, The Diplomatist conducted a written interview with H.E. Mr. Jean Claude Kugener, Ambassador of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg to India on issues including the current COVID-19 situation, common interests of Luxembourg and India in the international sphere, the future of the India-EU Free Trade Agreement and on the Luxembourg-India cooperation in the steel sector. Ambassador Kugener also gave a positive evaluation of Luxembourg’s economy and notes that the country is considered an attractive destination for Indians.

The whole world is affected by the Coronavirus. How much impact has the Coronavirus outbreak had, thus far, in your home country?

Luxembourg has also been severely affected since the confirmation of the first case of COVID-19 on 29 February. This pandemic has already caused more than 4000 confirmed positive cases and 110 deaths. The average age of the deceased people is 84 of which 66% died in hospital. Globally, Luxembourg ranked 5th in terms of positive recorded cases per 100.000 citizens. An unprecedented crisis and on 18 March, the Prime Minister declared the state of emergency and the Government has taken a number of strong measures.

Luxembourg’s Statistics Office STATEC indicated that the GDP shrank already by 6% and that the unemployment rate was 6.9% in April, a 27% increase compared to 2019. With sound public finances reaffirmed with the “AAA” rating by all major credit rating agencies, the Government adopted different measures totaling approx. 17,5% of the GDP to launch an unprecedented economic stabilization program. The program includes among other immediate financial assistance to help businesses meet their liquidity needs and supporting companies in getting bank loans through state guarantees.

With its “lockdown Exit strategy”, the Government is partially lifting the national lockdown in three different phases and primary schools, restaurants, cafés, and pubs have recently re-opened with the required sanitary rules and social distancing recommendations. Among the various measures, 50 free surgical masks have been distributed to every citizen, but the situation is far from normal and we do hope that the overall situation is going to improve progressively during the coming months.

What do you think will be the impact of the Coronavirus on how people travel and socialize? Can we expect life to go back to normal, at some point? And if so, what will the new normal be, in your opinion?

In my opinion, travel and socializing habits will change and we all have to adapt to new regulations and recommendations. The post-COVID-19 period is going to be challenging as our daily life and routine are impacted by the restrictions.

Our national carrier Luxair has started flying again and is gradually resuming flights taking special measures in order to guarantee safe travels. Voluntary testing is offered at the Findel international airport. And with the re-opening of restaurants and coffee shops and now cinemas, we see certain normalcy despite the fact that everybody needs to continue respecting the distancing rules and health safety recommendations.

The digital world is definitely going to have an increasing influence. We can see this with the home shopping/deliveries or the webinars for example; most of our meetings at the Embassy are now virtual. But I do look forward to meeting people and colleagues again as no computer interchange can replace the physical presence and discussions we are used to enjoying. Flexible working hours or remote home working will be part of the “new normal”. Alternative working definitely contributes to the social distancing measures or in reducing the traffic jams which we face everywhere nowadays. On 1 March, Luxembourg became the first country worldwide to make all public transports free in the country and together with remote working, this might have a positive effect on the reduction of daily traffic jams.

With the lockdown, we also discover new ways to communicate, follow concerts or visit an exhibition: the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra has launched a nice series of virtual live-stream concerts, which I very much enjoy watching. I also attended, among others, a virtual Vernissage of a new exhibition at the Villa Vauban museum in Luxembourg or followed a webinar of a Think Tank in Washington. New discoveries but I nevertheless look forward to attending the next concert, visit an exhibition or meet friends in a nice restaurant in Delhi again.

How would you comment on India’s handling of this crisis from the beginning to this date?

This pandemic has been challenging in many ways for every country affected. The Indian Government has reacted very early and we follow the situation very closely. During the entire lockdown, the Embassy remained operational with a reduced workforce in order to assist the Luxembourgers stranded in India and now the Indian citizens who live and work in the Grand Duchy in returning home. As the Consulate became last year the number one Luxembourg consulate in the world in terms of Schengen visa applications and as the Indian community in Luxembourg increased by 20,5% in comparison to 2019, the daily consular inquiries are quite considerable despite the closure of our Consulate since 22 March.

Since the beginning of this crisis, we have received full support from our various interlocutors in the Indian Government, at Union level as well as in the various regions where we assisted our citizens and companies throughout India. And in particular, from our esteemed colleagues at the Ministry of External Affairs who are doing a very impressive job.

What types of initiatives are you planning to build with India when this crisis is over?

In our bilateral agenda, we had planned and already finalized the program for official visits, which we jointly decided with the Indian Government to postpone after the COVID-19 crisis. But our daily work continues and we are regularly in contact with our Honorary Consuls in India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka where the Embassy is co-accredited as well.

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June 2020