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Coronavirus: Belgian labs lagging behind surge in new cases

© BELGA/ERIC LALMAND

The coronavirus testing and tracing strategy of Belgium is being disrupted as clinical labs, struggling under an influx of samples, fail to return results in the expected time frame.

As the number of infections surges throughout the country, patients have reported difficulties getting an appointment and hour-long queues at testing centres.

But those who do manage to get tested have also been faced with growing delays in receiving the results of their tests, with labs signalling to federal authorities that the bulk of incoming tests far exceeds their daily capacities.

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As of the latest available data on 14 October, labs reported being able to return results within 24 hours for less than half of all samples received — meaning that, for that single day, over 30,000 had to wait longer than expected for their results.

This delay has grown significantly compared to the previous months or even to the start of the month, with labs saying on 1 October that they were able to return 24h results on 65% of tests, compared to over 75% during the summer and early September.

The growing delays have exposed labs’ difficulties in keeping up with an ambitious strategy by authorities at both federal and regional levels to significantly ramp up daily testing capacities.

In Brussels, at least four new testing centres have opened as officials in the capital region aim to bring the city’s daily testing rate to 9,000 patients a day.

A surge in new cases in Brussels and Wallonia also revealed further shortcomings in the country’s regionalised contact tracing strategies, as call agents also struggled to contact all new positive cases in time.

Gabriela Galindo
The Brussels Times