The question of coronavirus screening tests in Belgium is nagging. We don’t test enough, Minister De Backer has promised 10,000 daily tests since March 25, but yesterday April 8, only 4,300 tests were carried out. This issue is also on the agenda of RMG, the Risk Management Group, which is made up of various experts from the FPS Public Health and representatives of the offices of responsible ministers at federal level and in federated entities.
They note the difficulties concerning the tests and evoke a “logistical” problem, more than a question of capacity. After discussion, and in line with the decisions taken on March 25, the RMG recommends, after a meeting held on Wednesday April 8, the following strategy:
- Systematic testing of people who have symptoms in collective residences (such as nursing homes but also hospitals). This test also concerns the staff of these institutions.
- Expand testing to people with flu symptoms (a clearer definition is expected).
- Test people entering collective residences, whether they have symptoms or not.
This new strategy is due to start on Monday April 13. The RMG also recommends, once deconfinement has started, that contacts be tested with people who have been confirmed positive for COVID-19.
Why not test people who don’t have asymptomatic ?
This issue has been discussed within the RMG. Why not test more people who are even asymptomatic? The RAG (Risk Assessment Group, made up of health risk experts, among others) believes that testing asymptomatic people could give a false sense of security.
Indeed, the risk of catching the virus is permanent, even if it tends to decrease slightly thanks to the measures. Getting tested negative on Monday won’t stop the virus from infecting you on Tuesday, for example. Without very regular tests therefore (and impossible for the moment), experts advise against this strategy. Which anyway, for the moment, is not an option.
Policies against experts?
In the House, this Thursday, the Open VLD Minister Philippe De Backer, in charge of the “Corona” task force, responsible for the tests and the obtaining of equipment, expressed himself in a way that was unprecedented to say the least. the experts: “Test criteria should be opened to asymptomatic patients to get a clear picture of the spread of the pandemic. From this rostrum, I appeal to the experts, to review their opinion and see how these 10,000 tests we have can be carried out as soon as possible. And if they don’t, I will be sure to take responsibility for myself after the weekend. “
It is not common for a member of the government to publicly question the RMG. And the conclusion is clear: Philippe De Backer will have tests carried out, even without expert agreement.
Another politician accustomed to these meetings explained to us at the beginning of the afternoon, on condition of anonymity, the same thing:You have to test the asymptomatic! Those who have symptoms, we know, 95% are infected. […] The RMG does not realize the situation on the ground and underestimates the fear in people who work.“
This Friday afternoon, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès is organizing a consultation committee with the various health ministers. The Belgian “testing” strategy will change this Monday: to see if the experts change their mind or stay on their position. And what the political world decides…