Belgium only tested 154 out of 110,000 red-zone travellers in November
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Belgium only tested 154 out of 110,000 red-zone travellers in November

Credit: Belga

Of the approximately 110,000 travellers who entered Belgium from a red zone in November, only 154 (or 0.14%) were tested for Covid-19, figures in a confidential government report show.

It concerns foreign travellers entering Belgium as well as Belgian travellers returning from (business) trips, but almost none of them were tested, according to figures in a confidential government report that Het Laatste Nieuws viewed.

Between 1 and 30 November, almost 110,000 people came to Belgium from a red zone, which is approximately 80% of all travellers who arrived in Belgium that month.

The report shows that the Brussels-Capital Region (31,300 passengers), the Antwerp province (16,800 passengers) and Flemish Brabant (11,900 passengers) saw the most travellers from red zones.

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Almost 70% of this traffic took place during the extended autumn holidays, despite the warning from Prime Minister Alexander De Croo that travelling abroad was “strictly discouraged,” right before the holidays started.

However, the low number of tests carried out is not as surprising as it seems, as the government changed its testing strategy on 21 October, and temporarily stopped testing travellers from red zones without symptoms to save on capacity.

However, the confidential report now shows how many people were allowed to enter Belgium from an area with a high virus circulation without being tested: 109,846. How many of those people were infected is unknown.

Since Belgium updated its testing strategy again on 23 November, red-zone travellers can get tested again. Between then and the end of November, 154 travellers were tested, 12 of which tested positive, indicating a positivity rate of 7.8%, the report states.

If this positivity rate was as high among the other 110,000 travellers as well, roughly 8,500 infected people could have entered the country without being tested.

However, during the period when travellers were not tested, the quarantine rules for them also changed: they had to quarantine for ten days from the day they were in Belgium.

Whether or not that quarantine was respected by all travellers is not certain, however, as systematic checks were not carried out, according to Karine Moykens of the Interfederal Testing & Tracing Committee.

On 7 December, she announced that Belgium would actually start checking if people were quarantining from 18 December, implying that there were no checks before that.

“All travellers will still have to fill in the Passenger Locator Form (PLF), but people coming from a red zone will also be required to go into quarantine for ten days, with a test on day seven,” Moykens said. “If the test is negative, you can leave quarantine.”

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times