Belgium plans to double daily testing capacity for upcoming winter

Belgium plans to double daily testing capacity for upcoming winter
Credit: Belga/Dirk Waem

Belgium will need to increase its coronavirus testing capacity to 50 to 70,000 tests per day in the first few months of 2021, the national crisis centre said during a press conference on Friday.

Especially at the end of this year and during the coming winter, the situation will become difficult as colds and other viruses will emerge, with the only way to distinguish from coronavirus being testing.

That means that the current testing capacity - 20 to 25,000 tests per day on average, with a cap of about 30,000 - will have to increase significantly.

An interministerial conference on the matter laid the basis for a future testing strategy on Thursday and developed an ambitious plan, the crisis centre said. The plan "requires a coordinated approach between many governments, general practitioners, laboratories and other actors."

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Along with the plan, there are clear priorities for who should get tested, the crisis centre said. These differ according to the incidence - the number of new cases per 100,000 inhabitants - and, the worse the situation gets, groups with a lower priority will not get tested.

In a first phase, which would involve a situation of low circulation of the virus and an incidence of fewer than 15 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants, there is the potential for broad testing, including those with mild symptoms and travellers returning from orange or red zones.

In phase 2, described as heightened circulation (15 to 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants), travellers returning from orange zones will no longer be tested.

Phase 3 - intense circulation (more than 50 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants) - will see travellers returning from red zones no longer being tested, though the requirement of a two-week quarantine will remain. Also, high-risk contacts will be tested only once instead of twice.

Municipalities or larger areas in phase 3 will see nursing home staff preventively screened once per month, something that isn't recommended for other institutions like schools or large companies.

Jason Spinks

The Brussels Times

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