There is a lack of “crucial information” on travellers returning to Belgium, such as their numbers, when they arrive and whether they fill in passenger locator forms, according to Geert Molenberghs, a professor of Biostatistics at Hasselt University and KU Leuven.
Speaking on Saturday at a scientific conference of the Koninklijke Academie voor Geneeskunde (Royal Institute of Medicine), the biostatistician said such information was not readily available mainly because of the fragmentation of political responsibility between many echelons of power in Belgium.
“Many of us find it frustrating that information that could be available is not there,” he said.
“What I would like to know is how many travellers have returned from which country, which week or which day ; how many of them filled in a PLF; how many went for testing after receiving an activation code, and how many tested positive,” Professor Molenberghs said in response to a question. “We do not have this data. It’s very difficult to obtain such information in this country because part of it is federally managed while the rest is managed by the regions.”
Molenberghs cited Germany as an example, noting that in the neighbouring country, it is possible to determine whether a new infection is due to exposure to the novel Coronavirus abroad. “For example, we learnt that in Germany, in mid-August, 50% of new cases could be attributed to returning travellers,” he said.
Based on this, experts expected a new spike in infections to occur in Belgium in late August and early September, when about half a million Belgians return home from vacation each year.
The biostatistician also regretted the lack of availability of information needed to calculate the reproduction rate of the novel Coronavirus without taking returning travellers into consideration. “Yet this is an important theoretical question,” he stressed.
Europe’s general data protection regulation also complicates matters since “it prevents us from having access to this information,” Molenberghs said. “I think it’s almost culpable negligence. This information is crucial for follow-up.”