Belgium is aiming to significantly boost its capacity to test patients for the new coronavirus (Covid-19) to 10,000 per day, up from the current 2,000.
An initiative to increase the number of daily coronavirus tests was launched last week by Digital Minister Philippe de Backer and Health Minister Maggie De Block.
The task force charted the current testing capacity of laboratories as well as the stocks of reactive testing agents with the aim of beginning testing at a larger capacity from next week.
"We follow a strategy to progressively increase the number of tests from 2,000 to 10,000 per day," De Backer wrote in an online statement.
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The increased testing capacity was made possible after the University of Namur and KU Leuven developed a new testing method which required fewer reagent quantities.
The news follows calls for large-scale testing from experts in the early days of the outbreak in Belgium, and also comes after doctors in Brussels published an open letter denouncing the government's failure to ensure hospitals are sufficiently equipped to fight the pandemic.
"It is unacceptable to hear that we can only test a fraction of patients and of medical staff due to a lack of reagents, (...) We are aware that a large portion of [Belgium's] industrial production has been moved [abroad] but don't tell us that we have become incapable of producing masks, [individual protective gear], and reagents," the letter read.
Currently, the official guidelines on testing dictate that only medical staff and hospitalised patients with apparent symptoms should be tested.
"I would be happy if we could also test everyone with mild symptoms, such as a cough or a sore throat," Steven Van Gucht, a virologist with the government's coronavirus experts team told De Morgen.
But announcing the creation of the task force on 25 March, De Block said that it was important to not change the course when it came to testing.
"We only test sick people in hospitals, it makes no sense to test people at the doctor's cabinet nor for people to come to the hospital asking to be tested for Covid-19," she said.
The ministers said that one of the main aims of boosting Belgium's testing capacity was to monitor the outbreak after it peaked, in order to understand the ways it spreads and so as to avoid a new wave.
The Brussels Times
Correction: A previous version of this article said that Belgium will increase testing capacity by 10,000 each day. Belgium will increase testing to 10,000 each day.