Are further relaxations a risk too far?

Vaccinologist Pierre Van Damme has responded to the rise in the rolling average of new corona cases that has now risen to 95 a day.  He insists that contact tracing must be improved to help find the cause of the new increase.  He notes how difficult it is to draw conclusions from the little information that is coming in.

Prof Van Damme is prepared to link the rise to the recent relaxations. He doesn’t want to reverse the increase in permitted leisure activities and the number of people you can meet socially, but hopes contact tracing can discover common factors in the new cases and identify the cause of the rise.

“Contact tracing must be quicker and more effective. The data bank doesn’t contain all the information we would wish for.  We must be able to compare data to find a common source.  We want to move ahead more swiftly to allow health inspectors to take steps to stem the spread.”

Action is being contemplated to improve the flow of information from testing labs to the health and science institute Sciensano and from there to the call centres. Sciensano also possesses a wealth of information that can’t be accessed by contact tracers. A new databank should only be up and running by the end of August.

Privacy regulations are hampering contact tracing.  Contact tracers are e.g. not allowed to ask people in Belgium where they have been. Karine Moykens, head of the interfederal committee Test & Tracing wonders if there hasn’t been a too strict interpretation by the data protection authority.

Health inspectors are currently only able to draw conclusions on the basis of a patient’s domicile not where they have been. However Moykens believes identifying people’s contacts and not where they have been is more important.

Wednesday’s meeting of the national security council was supposed to usher in further relaxation.  Prof Van Damme urges caution: “First we should know the cause of the new rise. As long as that isn’t identified, it’s difficult to press through further precise relaxations.  We’d be taking too big risks!”

On Tuesday Belgian health minister Maggie De Block (Flemish liberal) indicated that no fresh relaxations would be possible if the number of cases continued to mount.

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