Is Flemish contact tracing a comedy of errors?

VRT News’s Pano programme looked at contact tracing  efforts in Flanders nine months on.  It comes to the conclusion the system is expensive and yields too little data for the experts.

Experts the Pano team spoke with call for a fresh start to contact tracing, from scratch, in order to build a new sound system because we as a society will require a well-functioning contact tracing system for many months, even years, to come.

Contact tracing in Flanders has been a concern for many months: at the start of the second wave GPs sounded the alarm: first line defences against corona were built on poor foundations.

Headway has been made, but problems remain. Antwerp GP Heleen Aerts, who has many people of foreign heritage among her patients, cites one example from January; a man, who tested positive, supplied all the information about contacts who had been at risk.  He received a call for every member of the family, but every time it was a different tracer on the line. Contacts received different advice: some could go to work, others couldn’t.

Contact tracers are recruited via temping agencies.  They are often workers out of a job due to corona and have little or no medical experience.  Sound training was required but Pano discovered this did not happen.

One former contact tracer the programme spoke with speaks of unsafe conditions and an unwillingness to invest in proper office space.

“Our training was cut in half.  On Day 5 newcomers came to see how we were doing and we had to train them ourselves.  The then ICT system crashed” one worker explained.

Experts say that the ICT system that was especially designed is the main weak spot. There are also reports of major clashes between experts and developers when the ICT system was being designed.

Wouter Arrazola de Onate is an epidemiologist from Antwerp.  Last March he wrote a document detailing how contact tracing should be dealt with.  It was ignored.

“There were arguments and shouting.  Insults rained down on me.  They even threatened to contact my employer because I would not be uncritical” he says describing relations with developers.

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