From this week, new rules on getting tested and quarantining are in force in Belgium, as the latest update to the measures also made room for a broader testing policy.
Following the Consultative Committee on Friday, Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke stated that Belgium has "an enormous testing capacity" that will be used to test "very broadly."
Not only people who are not feeling well or who pose a risk will be tested, but systematic testing will happen in places where there is an outbreak, such as schools or certain neighbourhoods with large outbreaks, according to Vandenbroucke.
Who will be tested?
People over 6 years old who show symptoms of being infected, even if they are mild, should get tested as soon as possible, according to Sciensano.
Symptoms include coughing, fever, muscle aches, fatigue, sore throat, headaches, watery diarrhoea, and the sudden worsening of pre-existing chronic respiratory symptoms.
The fact that people who travelled abroad also have to be tested upon return, on day 1 and on day 7 of their quarantine, remains unchanged. However, the isolation period after a positive test has been increased from seven to ten days.
Travellers entering Belgium from the UK, South Africa and South America have to respect a ten-day quarantine, with testing on day 1 and day 7.
Non-residents travelling to Belgium will have to present a double test: one at departure and one on arrival. The test once in the country can either be a PCR test or a rapid antigen test.
Additionally, high-risk contacts - meaning people who spent at least 15 minutes without wearing a face mask at less than 1.5 m from a person who tested positive - will also be tested twice from now on, on day 1 and 7 of their quarantine.
Due to the more infectious UK coronavirus variant, primary school children who, in class or during lunch, sat next to a child who tested positive will also be considered high-risk contacts, and be tested on day 1 and 7 of their quarantine.
What kind of test will you get?
Most testing centres use PCR-tests to look for the presence of the virus, with a nose swab.
People who want to do a serological (blood) test to find out if they have developed antibodies against the virus, can contact their GP to discuss whether this test is useful, according to the authorities, as there are still many uncertainties and scientific limitations.
When do you need to be tested?
The best answer is: as soon as possible.
People should get tested at the first show of symptoms, immediately after being in contact with an infected person, as soon as possible after they have been contacted by contact tracers, and directly after returning from travelling abroad.
The authorities have repeatedly stressed the importance of getting tested as soon as you can, so contact tracing can start right away, and - in case of a positive test result - the transmission chain can be broken immediately.
To make testing even faster, the Brussels-Capital Region now no longer requires a doctor's prescription to get tested in one of their centres, so getting tested can happen even faster.
Where can you get tested?
People can get tested with their GP, in a testing centre, or in a lab, on condition that they have a medical prescription
Anyone who thinks they may have Covid-19 should contact their doctor (by phone) as soon as possible, who will decide whether or not a test is needed.
If the GP suspects that you are infected, they will refer you to a testing centre in your area.
This is an interactive map of most testing centres across Belgium, with info on opening hours, whether or not you need a prescription and instructions on how to book a slot. For the Brussels-Capital Region, this is a list of testing centres by municipality.
How can you get tested?
Booking an appointment in a testing centre across the country can be done via this website. Making an appointment is also possible via your GP.
When your GP fills in the electronic prescription, you will receive an activation code via text message. Such an activation code can also be sent at the initiative of a company doctor, a school doctor or a nursing home doctor.
If you cannot receive a text message for any reason, the doctor will give you this activation code or a prescription.
People who want to get tested in a lab, need to contact the lab directly.
For a test in a lab or a testing centre, you need:
- the 16-digit code that you received by text message or via your GP, or a medical prescription
- your national register number
- a mobile number to receive the result
- the name of the doctor who should also receive the result (optional)
As soon as your result is known, you can consult it on www.mijngezondheid.be, via the 'Covid-19' section after logging in. Receiving the result via text message is also possible, as is being notified via the Coronalert app, if you downloaded it.
If none of these options is possible, you can contact your doctor directly for the result of your test.
Belgium's vaccination strategy
According to Vandenbroucke, Belgium will beat the coronavirus as it has a strategy based on three important pillars: testing, isolation and vaccination.
Even though vaccination "remains a bumpy road," Belgium still aims to have 70% of the population vaccinated by the end of the summer.
Currently, residents and staff in care homes are being vaccinated, as are healthcare workers in some hospitals. From March, people over 65 years old and high-risk patients will be vaccinated, starting with the eldest and working towards the youngest, followed by people in an essential profession.
Vaccination of the general adult population is set to start in June, with Flanders even aiming to have everyone vaccinated before the summer starts. A more in-depth breakdown of the vaccination order can be found here.
The Brussels Times