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Belgian test strategy for returnees hits hiccups

Credit: Belga

A new system in place at Brussels Airport to test travellers returning from red zones for Covid-19 has run into difficulties on the second day of operation.

Since yesterday, the capacity of the testing station at Brussels Airport has been increased to 8,000 tests a day, to cope with the new rules for travellers returning from a red zone. Those rules require anyone who has been to a red zone for a stay of 48 hours or more to complete a Passenger Location Form (PLF), take a test on the first day of return and go into quarantine.

They should then be tested again on the seventh day, with quarantine restrictions lifted only on a negative test result.

However before being able to take the first test, passengers have to wait for an activation code, sent by text message to their phone. In practice, however, that is where the system was today found to be breaking down, RTL reports.

Having filled out the PLF, passengers then had to wait for the SMS before they could be tested, despite the fact that the testing station has had a 400% increase in capacity, and the addition of a second station and a drive-through section.

But despite places being available, people were being turned away and told to await the text message at home, and arrange for a test at that point. The task force on testing, meanwhile, has strongly advised passengers to be tested on arrival.

It’s a bit absurd,” said one passenger interviewed by RTL. “The whole business is very complicated. We do not know where to go to look for information,” said another.

The airport management told RTL discussions are taking place to find ways to simplify the procedure.

Meanwhile a new testing station will open at Charleroi airport tomorrow, Walloon health minister Christie Morreale (PS) said. The station is manned by the Red Cross, and can handle 750 tests a day, from 06.00 to midnight.

A new centre, also capable of carrying out 750 tests a day, opened today at the South station in Brussels, to be followed tomorrow by centres in Antwerpen-Centraal and Liege-Guillemins.

Meanwhile microbiologist Herman Goossens, who leads the testing task force, reminded travellers that Belgian residents are not obliged to take a test immediately on arrival, although they are advised to do so. Non-residents who cannot produce evidence of a negative test result must be tested on arrival. Residents will be contacted later using their PLF details, but must go into quarantine in the meantime.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times