Contacts of infected people should also be tested, says virologist

Contacts of infected people should also be tested, says virologist
Credit: Belga

The testing criteria for the new coronavirus (Covid-19) should be extended, so infected people might be more likely to provide the names of their contacts, according to virologist Emmanuel André.

André's proposal follows reports on Monday that infected people "seem afraid to pass on the names of people they have been in contact with” to the contact tracers, according to the Federal Public Health Service.

They suspect this has to do with people coming into contact with more people than technically allowed by the containment measures. Additionally, they likely feel guilty and do not want to be the reason their relatives or friends have to be placed in quarantine, André, who is the head of the coronavirus task force for testing and tracing, told De Standaard.

At the moment, only people with symptoms are being tested, except in hospital or care settings. However, these criteria should be broadened, André said.

The current test capacity in Belgium is 25,000 per day, but on Monday, only 13,860 tests were carried out. This leaves almost half of the capacity unused, even though Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès said that the testing capacity could be scaled up to 45,000 tests, if necessary, when announcing that the country's lockdown would be lifted in three stages.

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High-risk contacts, meaning people who have been in close contact with an infected person for a longer period of time, should also be tested, said André.

This way, it may be easier for infected people to pass on the names of their contacts, because they will be helping an acquaintance to take a test, rather than likely putting them in quarantine.

Additionally, if the contacts do have to go in quarantine, it can be shortened. A week of isolation will always be necessary, given the incubation period, but those who test negative at the beginning and end of that week can get back to work, André said.

In addition to the PCR test, a serological test that measures antibodies can also indicate who has built up immunity. If that is the case, a week in quarantine may even be superfluous.

"Such a person is not a high-risk contact," told André De Morgen. "The economic cost of a few tests is less than one day of quarantine," he added.

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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