Share article:
Share article:

Contact tracing will start as soon as possible

Professor Steven Van Gucht, spokesperson of the federal public health authority, Sciensano © Belga

When lifting the lockdown restrictions, Belgium will have to increase testing and start contact tracing.

The issue of contact tracing, which until now has been missing in the Belgian measures to fight the coronavirus, was mentioned as the last point in the decision taken by the National Security Council on Friday (24 April) on the gradual lifting of restrictions (deconfinement) during May and June.

Under “conditions for success”, the decision states that to ensure deconfinement in the best possible conditions, testing and tracing will play a major role. “For tracing, a coordinated strategy between regions and communities will be implemented, with the support of federal experts.”

“Contact tracing should start already in May, as soon as possible,” said professor Steven Van Gucht, spokesperson of Sciensano, to The Brussels Times. “We intend to set up call centres with 2,000 staff.”

He thought that main method of tracing would be manual while a mobile phone application will be a complimentary method. “I’ll recommend the use of an application but it cannot be sufficient.”

In its joint roadmap (15 April) towards a common lifting of the measures in the EU member states, the European Commission gave a green light to the use of mobile applications that warn citizens of an increased risk due to contact with a person tested positive for COVID-19.

“Such tracing is particularly relevant in the phase of lifting containment measures, when the infection risk grows as more and more people get in contact with each other,” the Commission wrote.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has also endorsed the roadmap and wrote in its latest risk assessment (23 April) that a “framework for contact tracing, based on extensive testing, active case finding, early detection of cases, isolation of cases, quarantine and follow-up of contacts, possibly supported by electronic tools and applications,” should be put in place.

“The world will not and cannot go back to the way things were,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last week and stressed the importance of testing and tracing.

“There must be a ´new normal’ – a world that is healthier, safer and better prepared. The same public health measures we have been advocating since the beginning of the pandemic must remain the backbone of the response in all countries. Find every case; Isolate every case; Test every case; Care for every case; Trace and quarantine every contact.”

Blood tests

Asked about serological testing (blood test of antibodies) during the phase-out period, Van Gucht agreed that such tests should be carried out but they are not yet accurate and need first to be validated. Antibodies created as a result of COVID-19 infection can protect against future minor infections but not against serious infections.

He does not believe that the testing can be used on a wider scale. “It could be interesting to use serological testing in settings such as hospitals and retirement homes to identify staff that risk of being infected.”

Preliminary sample tests of antibodies in blood banks in Belgium are not that promising and show that only 4,3 percent of the population had developed antibodies by 14 April. “The sample was representative of all age groups and different parts of the country,” Van Gucht says.

The figure can be seen as a lower limit and he did not expect that it would exceed 10 % by the end of June. The actual infection rate in Brussels until now is probably higher. If not all infected persons develop antibodies after recovery, nor become immune against serious infections in the future, there is a problem in achieving group immunity.

WHO wrote yesterday (25 April) that it continues to review the evidence on antibody responses to coronavirus infection. “Most of these studies show that people who have recovered from infection have antibodies to the virus. However, some of these people have very low levels of neutralizing antibodies in their blood, suggesting that cellular immunity may also be critical for recovery.”

According to WHO, laboratory tests that detect antibodies in people, including rapid immunodiagnostic tests, need further validation to determine their accuracy and reliability. Inaccurate immunodiagnostic tests may falsely categorize people as positive or negative which will have serious consequences and will affect control efforts.

Other countries, such as Italy and Germany, seem to believe more in serological testing. Germany plans to sample the entire population for antibodies in the coming months. Preliminary results from a small German town showed that 14 % of the inhabitants had developed anti-bodies.

M. Apelblat
The Brussels Times

Latest news

Why Belgium is regulating sex work
After decades of confusing rules and hypocritical policy, Belgium is finally regulating sex work by removing prostitution from the criminal law. ...
Up to 100 km/h winds expected across Belgium on Wednesday night
Gusts of up to 100 km/h are expected across Belgium on Wednesday night, according to the Royal Meteorological Institute (RMI), which has issued a ...
Cycling traffic officially added to VRT’s traffic bulletin
Usually a list of updates for drivers on busy roads, traffic bulletins will now include the latest travel news for cyclists in Belgium, VRT announced ...
MEPs call for European strategy to protect workers from asbestos
Members of the European Parliament are calling on the Commission to create a strategy for removing all abestos from buildings in order to reduce the ...
Mandatory vaccine for carers: employers call for sanctions
In a notice submitted by the National Council for Work (CNT), employers have called for heavy penalties for healthcare workers who refuse to receive ...
Police pension protest blocks several Brussels crossroads
On Wednesday, around 350 police officers expressed their dissatisfaction about the unclear pension scheme, low salaries and politicised police unions ...
Belgium in Brief: A Consultative Committee Sequel
Sequels often have a lot to live up to and when it comes to movie franchises, it gets difficult to keep up the hype once you get towards the final ...
25 years ago today: 300,000 people marched in white against child abuse
On this day 25 years ago, over 300,000 people marched in Brussels to demand a more effective justice system and to support the families of Julie, ...
Windy weather forecast should lower gas prices
After weeks of relatively calm conditions, a return to windy weather should lower Europe's soaring energy prices. Wind turbines in the UK and Germany ...
EC calls on candidate countries to focus on fundamental reforms before they can join the EU
The European Commission adopted yesterday its 2021 Enlargement Package, providing a detailed assessment of the state of play and the progress made by ...
Cigarette-eating robot patrols Ghent streets to fight littering
A litter fighting (and eating) robot will be patrolling the streets of Ghent in the coming weeks in an effort to raise awareness of the growing ...
Display of child’s room in Brussels raises awareness of foster families
An exhibit that features a fictitious child’s bedroom has been on display since Tuesday at the Place d'Armes in Namur, with the support of the ...