All staff and residents of health and care facilities in Belgium will be tested for the new coronavirus (Covid-19) with over 200,000 test kits distributed by the federal government.
Out of the more than 210,000 PCR test kits, a majority is set to go to Flanders (121,673), followed by Wallonia (60,966) and Brussels (20,702).
The testing is estimated to last around three weeks with regional governments deciding which facilities will be tested and in which order.
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Federal Minister Philippe De Backer, charged with organising and boosting the country's testing strategy, said in an online statement the tests' target group across all regions would be "all staff and all residents that have not yet been tested for Covid-19."
The news comes as regional authorities race to contain soaring rates of contagion among nursing homes in the country, after figures from last week revealed that nursing home residents made just under half of Belgium's total coronavirus deaths.
In Flanders, the minister of health, Wouter Beke, came under fire from the opposition who accused him of failing to respond sooner, after it was revealed that over 600 nursing home residents had died in Flanders since figures began to be collected on 18 March.
Regional governments will be tasked with deploying the tests throughout the facilities on their territory, while the federal authorities will provide testing materials and carry out analysis via a centralised PCR platform.
According to Belgium's current strategy only hospitalised Covid-19 patients or medical staff presenting symptoms of the virus can be tested for Covid-19.
In late March, the testing guidelines were enlarged to include nursing homes and other live-in facilities, including prisons, and recommended at that time a maximum of five tests per centre.
Aside from nursing homes, facilities for psychiatric care and all other health or care facilities will also be included in the efforts to widen testing.
PCR-based testing analyses tissue samples from throat or nose swabs and is capable of producing results within hours or in up to two days.
The Brussels Times