Belgian residents wanting to use the code for a free PCR test – made available by the government last weekend – before they leave on holidays can also go to their GP, instead of going to a testing centre.
As several testing centres indicated that all their appointments are booked by travellers, leaving no room to test people with symptoms, GPs are getting a lot of enquiries from patients who also need a test before going on holiday.
“All general practitioners decide for themselves,” Roel Van Giel of the Domus Medica GP Association told VRT, adding that while they are allowed to perform the tests, some cannot take the extra work and still opt to refer people to a centre.
Since last weekend, people who have not yet had the chance to be fully vaccinated can request up to two free PCR tests, resulting in fully booked testing centres as many want to use those tests to travel.
“You still have to apply for a code yourself on mijngezondheid.be, but with that code, GPs can ensure that the test is free for travellers,” Van Giel said. “You do still have to pay for the consultation.”
Especially in the regions where test centres are beginning to fill up, such as in the Antwerp municipality of Mortsel, there is an increasing demand to take the travel test at the doctor’s office.
As a result, people who have symptoms of a Covid-19 infection or have had a high-risk contact are finding it increasingly difficult to book an appointment, according to the chairman of the Mortsel centre Filip Verdurme.
“Those free tests work with the same system and codes as [those for] ordinary people,” he said on local radio, adding that those codes are actually meant for people with symptoms or who have had a high-risk contact. “That is a problem.”
“Your GP still gives you a code like that if you are ill or infected. These patients find it increasingly difficult to make an appointment,” Verdurme said. “All those codes saturate our registration system.”
In the meantime, several initiatives have started up their own centres to test travellers, in an effort to take (part of) the burden of off regular testing centres, such as Travel Test in Antwerp, but that does not necessarily help GPs, according to him.
Up until Monday, 160,677 people had already requested a free PCR test for their travel plans, according to Karine Moykens, who heads the Interfederal Committee on Testing and Tracing.