Nearly half of all calls placed by contact tracers in Brussels have gone unanswered this week, sparking concerns among health officials amid efforts to prevent a new wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Karima Amrous, a communication officer for the Brussels-Capital Region's testing and tracing task force, said that, in the last seven days, 45% of people contacted by staff had not answered or failed to call back.
This week's numbers are up from last week's rate of non-responses (which stood at 37%) and nearly double the rate of failed contact tracing attempts since the start of the month.
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"In late June, 23% of people were unreachable — meaning the figures have doubled in the past week," Amrous told Le Soir.
Contact tracers in Belgium are meant to reach out to people who have either tested positive for Covid-19 or have a high risk of having been infected by the virus.
"So it's people who should be in self-isolation," she said.
The growing number of failed contact tracing efforts in Brussels coincides with a steady rise in the number of new coronavirus infections in the country and with efforts by authorities to get a grip on emerging infection hotspots.
Brussels' contact tracing centre has upped its reach-out capacity in recent weeks, with record 254 calls placed on 28 July.
"Last week, we were able to identify 324 'high risk' persons, get them to self-isolate and recommend they get immediately tested," Amrous said, an increase of 59% compared to last week.
Residents who are contacted by the contact tracing call centre are sent an SMS with which they can access a free Covid-19 test. They must then self-isolate even if the results of the test are negative.
"People who are subject to contact tracing procedures (...) are always contacted by the same number: [+32] (0)2 214 19 19 or via the number 8811, if the contact is done by SMS," Amrous said.
The Brussels Times