As calls are rising to shorten Belgium's mandatory 14-day quarantine period for people who may have been in contact with the coronavirus, the federal government is looking into whether or not it is possible.
The mandatory 14-day quarantine - for people who have been in contact with an infected person or have returned from a red travel zone - was initially determined because the virus has a long incubation period, and it can take a long time before people start showing symptoms, but several experts are now arguing to shorten it.
"If science gains new insights, we should be open to them," Federal Minister Philippe De Backer said at the inter-ministerial conference, which brings together all the ministers responsible for care, on Wednesday. "That is why it was decided to ask our experts to find out whether it could be shorter, and to substantiate this scientifically."
Earlier on Wednesday, microbiologist Herman Goossens said that the 14-day period should be cut in half as it unnecessarily takes people out of societal life for a long period of time.
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“I have heard that, in certain cities, police and fire brigades are in trouble because people have to remain in quarantine for a long time,” Goossens said on Radio 1. “This puts essential services in danger.”
A shorter quarantine comes with risks, experts say, but so does a 14-day one. Mid-August, official figures by De Backer showed that only half of Belgians returning from red zones got tested, likely because many do not want to isolate themselves for two weeks.
If the mandatory isolation period would be shortened, more people would be inclined to keep to it, Goossens argued.
Steven Van Gucht, virologist at national research institute Sciensano, told De Tijd that he is willing to reconsider the quarantine rules.
"We will examine this thoroughly," he said, adding that overly flexible rules are also dangerous. "If we become less strict, it is more likely that someone will slip through the cracks. But you can also argue that the social or economic costs of such long quarantines are too high. At the end of the day, we have to weigh up the risks."
The Brussels Times