Farm labourers are able to carry on working as normal, even if they test positive for Covid-19 and have to quarantine, the agricultural newsletter VILT reports.
The reason given for the exception to the general rule is that the work of seasonal farm labourers is strictly limited in time: when it comes time to harvest the crops, the time is now and not in seven days.
However the arrangement does not have the approval of virologist Marc Van Ranst. In response to a news report by the VRT on how seasonal workers from Bulgaria were working on despite having just come in from a red zone, Van Ranst took to Twitter to object.
“This is one way the quarantine measures are eroded step by step,” he posted. “The entire seasonal worker system, whereby low-wage workers are imported and often allowed to live in precarious unsanitary conditions, would best be abolished or at least thoroughly modified.”
The workers are tested on arrival in Belgium, and again after seven days. However they are excused the mandatory seven-day quarantine imposed on any other arrival in Belgium from a red zone, because their work is considered essential because of its timely nature.
According to one farm owner quoted by the VRT, the workers are accommodated in a warehouse on the farm, fitted out for lodgings, and are not allowed to leave the farm during their stay. They live together and work together, and remain indoors when now working.
“We make sure they have everything they need,” the farmer said. Not enough for Van Ranst.
“It was never the plan for people to go into quarantine in groups,” he told VILT.
The farmers’ union ABS disagrees.
“They can indeed work during their quarantine, as the Consultative Committee formulated in a text we received,” Hendrik Vandamme, president of the ABS, told Het Nieuwsblad.
According to the union, there are at present only a couple of thousand imported seasonal workers in the fields of Belgium, fewer than there would normally be in spring or summer.
And while they are bound by quarantine rules in general, they are allowed to quarantine in groups.
“That comes about because they almost always stay on the site itself, because the grower usually provides accommodation on the site.”