How will contact tracing operate in Flanders?

The Flemish government has struck a deal with a group of five health funds united in ZPG Intermut, a consortium of call centres and the consultants KPMG in order to organise contact tracing to combat coronavirus.  By 11 May sufficient staff should be available to trace the contacts of all new corona patients.

Together with mouth masks and testing contact tracing is one of the three main planks of the government’s plan to allow a relaxation of the corona measures. Contact tracers will give all new corona patients a bell to find out who they have been in contact with.

If you have been identified as a contact of somebody who tests positive, you will be asked to self-isolate for two weeks and take your temperature twice a day.

2,000 contact tracers across Belgium will contact several categories of people: people who are infected, their contacts and care workers, school doctors, care homes and other groups where an infected contact has been identified.  People, who have been contacted previously but require follow up, will also receive calls.

Each Belgian region will decide for itself how call centres are manned, but software will come from the federal government.  The five main health funds, the consortium of call centres and KPMG will provide 1,200 Flemish contact tracers: cost 100 million euros.

Health funds are being involved because of their experience in the field.  In addition to phone calls home visits will also have to be made.  Since Monday Flemish civil servants have been trialling the software and phone calls.

Anybody receiving a call will be asked to identify their contacts of recent days. The emphasis is on the two days before you became ill and the following days.  You may also be informed that you have been in contact with somebody who has tested positive.  This person will not be identified.

People who have tested positive may be asked to fill in a contact form by their GP even before they receive a call from the call centre. In this way the contact tracing can start immediately.  Questions include identifying persons you had physical contact with! It’s not the kind of information many people will be used to sharing.

Anybody, who is worried they might forget their contacts, can start keeping track right away!

People, who have been asked to self-isolate, may still go shopping for essentials and visit the pharmacy.  You will have to wear a mouth mask at all times and observe hygiene measures, while singing “Happy Birthday”.  Only self-isolating care workers will be allowed to continue on at work outside the home, if they are needed to ensure care. 

Self-isolators may continue to work from home.  You will receive a quarantine certificate confirming you can’t attend your workplace.  The certificate may be issued by your family doctor or the call centre official under supervision of a health inspector. People unable to work will end up in temporary unemployment.  Independent professionals can count on a bridging loan.

The government is eager to guarantee your privacy.  Call centre officials will only be handed your name, phone number and you will be identified as one of five profiles (infected patient, contact of confirmed case, etc.)  This information will be stored in a private cloud.  Information compiled by call centre officials will be stored in the databank of the science and health institute Sciensano that will collect all data on people who have been tested by labs, hospitals and GPs. The information is stored for scientific research and individuals won’t be identifiable.  All contact information will be deleted after the emergency.   

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