With numerous countries including the United States, France and Switzerland relaxing quarantines for the seemingly less severe Omicron variant, Belgium is set to announce a similar strategy on Monday evening.
The health ministers of the different levels of government will meet from 17:00 to discuss a new quarantine policy before a formal inter-ministerial conference on public health will take place to provide an update of the “testing and tracing” policy.
“The ministers will meet later this afternoon but a decision is not expected to be announced until 20:30 on Monday,” Flemish Health Minister Wouter Beke’s spokesperson told The Brussels Times.
Quarantine causing havoc for businesses
The announcement comes in light of calls coming from two employers’ federations – the Federation of Enterprises in Belgium (FEB) and the Flemish self-employed organisation Unizo – who have publicly asked for a relaxation of the current quarantine rules to avoid excessive absenteeism in companies.
Currently, those infected with the coronavirus must isolate for ten days while the rest of their household goes into quarantine. But as the Omicron variant seems to be milder than the Delta strain and has a shorter incubation period (people do not seem to be infectious for as long), various countries are looking to shorten this period.
“A London study between Christmas and New Year shows that 10% of the population get sick from the Omicron variant at the same time,” virologist Marc Van Ranst told De Morgen. “They do not get dramatically ill. It mainly concerns colds without the typical Covid symptoms.”
Specifically, Omicron patients have no loss of smell or taste and no high fever but do sometimes have joint pain and fatigue. “There are similar results in Denmark,” Van Ranst added.
Epidemiological vs practical point of view
Last week, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) in the US cut its recommended quarantine period in half, advising infected people to isolate for just five days, instead of ten.
Meanwhile, France reduced the isolation period for fully vaccinated people who tested positive to seven days and even scrapped it completely after a high-risk contact.
From a purely virological and epidemiological point of view, Van Ranst voiced concerns about a shorter quarantine period, “But I can understand that politicians are considering it because of the threat of understaffing in crucial sectors.”
On Monday, the ministers will also discuss how to manage the testing and tracing of contacts when the Omicron variant is spreading rapidly, resulting in an increase in contaminations.
A new Consultative Committee to discuss all current measures is due to take place on Thursday. A week later, the second Consultative Committee of the year will convene to discuss the management strategy and a ‘coronavirus barometer‘ that has been announced several times.
This article was updated at 16:55 to include the timing for the meeting of the various health ministers.