The federal government is threatening to impose financial penalties on laboratories that drag their feet in returning the results of coronavirus tests, Belga reports.
As the number of cases is again rising, and the contact tracing system is still experiencing trouble getting off the ground, the government is worried that it is taking too long for people who were tested to be given their results.
The question is an important one, since a positive test should trigger a series of actions: self-isolation for the person infected, possible contacts notified by contact tracers, and information for epidemiologists on the appearance of infection clusters, if that is the case.
Also, the longer an infected person remains unaware of their status, the more opportunity they have to infect others.
The government has said it wants labs to be able to communicate a test result to the health institute Sciensano within the hour. The majority of laboratories are moving in that direction, a spokesperson said, but others are failing to meet the deadline, or are able to do so only by providing incomplete information.
Now some labs are being threatened that if their results do not improve, they will no longer be paid for the tests by Inami, the national agency for medical insurance.
The consequences of the slow delivery of test results can be seen in the example of the new drive- and walk-in testing village in Park Spoor Oost in Antwerp.
The station has three testing stations, two for cars and one for cyclists and pedestrians. In all, a capacity of 600 tests a day.
Instead, the whole village handled only 731 visitors in its first week of operation.
That, said Dr Jan Stroobants, the emergency physician behind the initiative, is largely a result of the delay in sending out notifications to people to turn up and be tested. While those people are waiting to be notified, they remain infected – and positive results come to 8.8% of all tests. Part of the delay in sending out notifications is the delay in testing people they have been in contact with – and so the initial delay has a knock-on effect all the way down the line.