Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke suggested that the country’s various Education Ministers could buy self-tests en masse to make them available to families with school-aged children for free.
It is impossible for the Federal Government to provide a free offer of self-tests, but local governments or educational authorities can always choose to do so themselves, he said at the press conference following the Consultative Committee on Thursday.
“Nothing is stopping local councils, centres for pupil guidance, educational authorities or schools from purchasing self-tests en masse and offering them themselves,” Vandenbroucke added.
“I hope my colleagues will not get angry now, because this is of course easy for me to say, but the Ministers of Education can perfectly make group purchases of self-tests and make them available for free,” he said. “I would even encourage that.”
Vandenbroucke stressed that he tried to find a way for the Federal Government to offer the tests for free, but “it does not work” with the current arrangement. “We aim to distribute self-tests through two channels: supermarkets and pharmacies. We cannot introduce a reimbursement system in supermarkets. Something like that does not yet exist and would take too long to implement.”
On the other hand, offering free self-tests in pharmacies would lead to no tests being sold in supermarkets. “And that is precisely the broadest distribution channel of the Federal Government,” explained Vandenbroucke.
He also countered the criticism that a self-test currently costs too much. “In the supermarket, you pay about €3 to €3.5. At the pharmacy a self-test costs €6 to €8.”
However, about 20% of the population is also entitled to cheaper self-tests, meaning they can buy them for €1 per test at the pharmacy, Vandenbroucke said. “€1 is not free, but it is not much either.”
In a family that is entitled to such a reduced rate, each family member can buy four self-tests every fortnight at only €1 each. “It is therefore important that people find out whether they are entitled to this rate.”
Lowering the threshold
In the meantime, the centre for pupil guidance in the municipality of Assenede, in the province of East Flanders, announced that it would buy about 100 self-tests to distribute free of charge among vulnerable citizens.
The municipality wants to convince people to get themselves tested for Covid-19 more often. “The discount that they now get at the pharmacy is sometimes not enough.”
Now that the Government is also recommending tests for primary school children every week, Assenede is considering increasing this number. “People who are in debt mediation or budget management, or who have an income that falls just above the pay scale, can get a free test,” Lieselotte Van Hoecke (SamenPlus) of the Centre for Pupil Guidance said on local radio.
“In this way, we want to lower the threshold for people from our target group to take a test. That way, the willingness to take the test can also increase,” she added.