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Covid-19: Flanders starts speed-testing at produce market

Workers at the auction shift tonnes of fresh food every day. € REO Veiling

The Flemish government has started a campaign of rapid Covid tests aimed at helping essential businesses remain open while ensuring the safety of workers.

The government has selected 50 such businesses, and has a stock of 40,000 rapid tests for 20,000 workers. The tests can rapidly show if a person is infected with Covid-19, allowing immediate precautions to be taken without the business having to be closed down.

The first business to set the system in action was the fruit and vegetable auction at Roeselare in West Flanders.

We cannot afford to have to stop work completely for even one day,” a spokesperson said. “We are very grateful for the tests.”

The tests are reserved for workers in critical functions, who could not be easily replaced if they had to be pulled from the workforce.

Critical functions are positions that cannot be replaced quickly, that are indispensable in the company and for which teleworking is impossible,” explained Flemish economy minister Hilde Crevits (CD&V).

Employees in a critical position who have had a high-risk contact are tested on day one. If that result is negative, he or she can continue to work, but in the meantime must go into private quarantine. A new rapid test follows three days later and a PCR test on day seven. If the employees test positive on any of the tests, he or she must immediately go into isolation.”

The Roeselare auction is considered an essential company, according to director-general Paul Demyttenaere, who has been pressing for rapid testing since March.

We cannot afford to have to stop work completely even for one day. That would mean a loss of 100,000 fresh fruit and vegetables and therefore also lead to a lot of shops suddenly running out of fresh supplies,” he said.

The company has a scare back in September, when one employee became infected at a time when only one third of the workers in the loading bay were at work.

We managed to bridge the problem by rearranging and relocating people, but it showed just how important rapid testing can be,” Demyttenaere said.

In the coming weeks, the Flemish government will make 40,000 tests available at no cost to companies in critical sectors like the food industry, electricity, nuclear energy, the ports, the pharmaceutical sector and the (petro)chemical sector.

It’s about companies that have to keep running. The auction is a textbook example, because they provide us with fresh and tasty food day after day,” Crevits said.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times