Brussels region will not agree to a proposal to be discussed tomorrow to allow municipal mayors access to the personal details of people who test positive for Covid-19, health minister Alain Maron (Ecolo) said.
The request came from the mayor of Saint-Josse, Emir Kir. At present, mayors are informed when there is an outbreak of the virus in a particular neighbourhood, to allow extra prevention measures to be taken. But they cannot have the names and addresses of individuals.
“It is important that we know the areas where infections occur, but it should be even more important that we can contact the infected people ourselves,” said Kir, who now has no political affiliation since being stripped of the socialist party PS mandate in January.
“That way we can help them by doing their shopping or going to the pharmacy, so that we can ensure that these people stay at home. The point is that they can observe the mandatory quarantine, in the interests of the safety of all Belgians.”
The commune of Saint-Josse, the smallest of the 19 Brussels communes as well as the poorest, set up a home delivery service during the lockdown that started in March, to allow vulnerable residents including the elderly to stay at home.
But the people who used that service did so voluntarily after being referred by other services such as home help providers. Kir’s idea would reveal the identities of people infected with Covid-19 without their knowledge, and certainly without their permission, in a clear breach of medical confidentiality.
Kir was told by the Brussels health inspectorate that his demand was unacceptable.
“We give the municipalities only maps of the districts,” Inge Neven, coordinator of the inspectorate, told Bruzz. “We are not supposed to communicate personal data, such as infections in certain residential blocks, because that is confidential.”
The question is due to come up at a meeting tomorrow of the Brussels region’s own security council, when Kir is expected to seek the support of his fellow mayors. But Maron is not disposed to give in, whatever the 19 mayors decide.
“We do not communicate address data to the municipalities,” spokesperson Pascal Devos said. “The mayor is of course free to propose such a grocery delivery service to his entire population, in case someone needs quarantine. That produces the same result.”
That position is supported by federal health minister Maggie De Block (Open VLD).
“We do not share personal data with municipalities and we are not going to start now,” spokesperson Peter Poulussen said. “Only the regional health inspectors can see those figures. They decide how to proceed further. Once you start sharing out names and addresses, the system breaks down. People are already very reluctant to cooperate with contact tracing.”