Mayors get manual on how to handle local outbreaks

Mayors get manual on how to handle local outbreaks
One possibility: local checks on anyone entering a town. © Belga

The country’s 581 mayors have been issued a manual on how to deal with a local outbreak of coronavirus (Covid-19).

With the regional and national governments now meeting every few days in either the consultative committee or the national security council, tension is clearly high in the face of the continuing rise in the number of new cases of Covid infection.

Since the lockdown was imposed in March, the reduction of measures to battle the epidemic has been based on the evolution of the spread of the disease, with each successive phase only coming into force when the figures justified it.

So last week when the national security council met, they decided not to move to Phase 5 as originally planned, because the number of new Covid cases was rising. The plan was to wait a week and see what happened.

Now that week will be up tomorrow, when the council is due to meet again, and with today’s figures showing a further increase to an average of 184 new infections a day, the room for manoeuvre is gone.

In the words of federal health institute Sciensano, “All signals are at red.” The train, for the time being, stops here.

The country had one lockdown, not total but still more extensive than anything seen before including during wartime. Another on such a scale is unthinkable. Hence the emphasis now on identifying and tackling local outbreaks.

Which is where local authorities come into play, by imposing such measures as the local circumstances demand. And to ensure that the reaction of one commune is compatible with the reactions of other communes, the manual – which has to be approved tomorrow by the national security council – sets out a list of possibilities.

Those include measures such as curfew, a ban on gatherings of any kind, closure of shops or sports centres, cancellation of outdoor markets, the imposition of masks where not already compulsory and any other measures that might be suitable – up to and including closing an entire municipality, if need be with the assistance of local police with the support of civil protection and even the army.

The manual will doubtless be a useful tool in the hands of local authorities, as much to guide them as to what not to do as on how to act.

But it will only be truly effective if local authorities are able to identify and locate the sources of local outbreak, and the signs are that the contact-tracing mobile teams required to do that will not be up and running until after the summer at the earliest.

Alan Hope

The Brussels Times

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