Virologist Steven Van Gucht, who heads the health and science institute Sciensano, points to the strategy adopted in Germany. Small units like businesses, schools and blocks of flats go into lockdown when there is a local outbreak.
“We must avoid a second lockdown over the entire country and act quickly and locally.”
Testing and tracking down potential new cases are crucial in any bid to prevent a general lockdown. Contact tracers play an essential role. At least 150 contact tracers will remain at work in Flanders.
Virologist Marc Van Ranst, one of the scientists who prepared the easing of the lockdown, stresses the need for epidemic detectives. Contact tracing isn’t sufficient. Links also need to be made.
Jan De Maeseneer, Prof of Family Medicine, believes a far greater effort needs to be made to register the context of infections: “Did it happen at a hobby club or somewhere else? An app can help, but the app needs to do more than register your proximity to an infected person.”
The health institute isn’t given the address of infected patients as this is against privacy regulations, but the labs do possess information on postcodes, age and gender. Sciensano is informed whether patients form part of a community like a school or care home.
Johnny Thijs, former Bpost CEO and member of the exit strategy group of experts, is worried the collected information doesn’t paint a full enough picture. Do patients live in the same street, work at the same company or socialise in the same pubs? This isn’t clear at the minute.
During the first lockdown the lack and poor quality of personal protective equipment was a major problem. Minister Philippe De Backer, who co-ordinates the logistics, insists strategic stocks are now larger and the equipment meets quality concerns. In addition to the federal stocks Flanders is also stockpiling enough equipment to cover a two month period.
Prof De Maeseneer warns that problems still surround testing. The testing equipment is available, but the tests need to be carried out more quickly: “No more than 24 hours should lapse between a patient’s call to his doctor and the GP getting the result. Today 48 hours sometimes lapses and that’s too long!”