Expats disproportionally hit by Belgium’s Covid-19 testing policy, data shows
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Expats disproportionally hit by Belgium’s Covid-19 testing policy, data shows

Credit: Belga

A sudden spike in infections in Brussels – which saw numbers almost double (+94%) in a week – may have been placed at the feet of travellers, but further information from Sciensano has shown that while they may be at the root of the numbers, it was almost impossible that they were not going to be.

In the recent figures in the capital, infections have been seen mostly “among young adults between 20 and 40 years old, and are concentrated in municipalities such as Brussels-City, Ixelles and Etterbeek,” said virologist and interfederal Covid-19 spokesperson Steven Van Gucht.

These areas are – as Van Gucht puts it – “areas with a very international population and many expats.” Importantly, however, they are also areas “where many people have returned from a trip, which partly explains the sudden increase in infections,” and under the current rules, the majority of those who return from abroad must undergo a test.

THE RULES: As of 31 December, Belgium has required a mandatory quarantine after a stay of more than 48 hours in a red zone. This means that everyone (residents and non-residents) who returns to Belgium after a stay of at least 48 hours in a red zone will have to go into quarantine. A PCR test is required upon return on day 1 and day 7 of quarantine, and the quarantine can only be ended if the PCR test on day 7 shows a negative result.

During the second week of the Christmas holiday, about 80,000 returning travellers filled out a Passenger Locator Form (PLF), of which 3.8% tested positive for Covid-19, or about 3,000 people, according to Van Gucht.

Additionally, between 1 January and 10 January, 41,800 Passenger Locator Forms (PLF) were filled out in the Brussels-Capital Region, which is 70% of all the forms in the country over this period, according to figures by the Common Community Commission (COCOM).

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According to the COCOM, the high number of PLFs can be explained by the “international character of the Brussels population.” As a result of the many PLFs, the number of tests carried out increased as well, from an average of 2,100 tests per day to an average of 5,000 tests per day – naturally resulting in more detected infections.

These figures – which saw an unusually high week of testing due to all the returnees – were then compared to the previous week, one which was particularly slow due to the festive period.

Additionally, as a large number of travellers – mainly those travelling by car – did not fill out the form and/or were not tested, the number is likely higher, with experts estimating that as many as 5,000 people returned to Belgium while carrying the virus in the past weeks.

Maïthé Chini & Jules Johnston
The Brussels Times