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Contact tracing: slowing down the virus together

Contact tracing means that we look for the people with whom a sick person has had contact. This enables these contact persons to quickly get the right advice.

Contact investigation in Belgium is a historic collaboration between the Walloon AVIQ, the Services of the United College (COCOM) in Brussels, the Flemish Agency for Care and Health and the Ministry of the German-speaking Community.

I have COVID-19 symptoms myself

  • Call your GP. He or she will make an appointment for a test.
  • Stay in your house.
  • Avoid contact with people who live in your house.

Do you test negative? Then you may leave your house again.

Do you test positive?

  • Stay in isolation for at least 7 days.
  • The persons living in your house must be in quarantine.
  • Try to make a list of the people you have had contact with in the past days. Think about the people you met from two days before you had symptoms (e.g. your colleagues, a friend you went for a walk with, your own family members, the postman, etc.).
  • Your list of contacts should preferably include their name, telephone number, address, date of birth and e-mail address.

A government employee will call you from the number 02/214.19.19. It is important that you answer the employee’s questions as fully as possible:

  • He or she will ask you about the list of contacts you drew up.
  • You should give some extra information about yourself in order to be able to assess the situation as concretely as possible: your date of birth, general state of health, profession, contact with people at risk, etc.

This data will be treated confidentially. Thanks to your contribution, your contacts can be notified in good time and they can follow up any symptoms well.

I may have come into contact with someone who is a carrier of Covid-19

Have you come into contact with anyone who might be ill right now? Were you in contact with this person for some time (more than 15 minutes) and up close (within a distance of 1.5 metres)? (For example: a housemate, a colleague sitting next to you in the office, a friend from school). This is known as higher-risk of being infected. What are you requested to do in this case?

  • Stay 10 days in quarantine.
  • Always wear a face mask.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Don’t let other people into your home.
  • You are only allowed to go to the pharmacy, the doctor and the supermarket.
  • Measure your temperature twice a day.

More information about the test procedure.

Have you come into contact with people in the supermarket or with a colleague who is not sitting next to you at work? This is known as lower-risk contact. What are you requested to do in this case?

  • Always wear a face mask.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Stay 14 days at a distance of 1.5 metres from all persons.
  • Call your GP and isolate yourself if you develop symptoms.

What about my data?

Naturally, your information will be treated in complete confidence. How do we do this? 

Your data, and the data of those people with whom you have been in close contact, has been collated and processed in Sciensano’s database, the national public health institute of Belgium.

We keep this data for 3 reasons:

  1. to be able to track and contact the patients concerned through a contact centre
  2. to provide relevant information to the region’s health, prevention and inspection services in order to minimise the spread of the virus
  3. to enable scientific, statistical and/or policy research, after pseudonymisation or anonymisation of the data.

We take the protection of your personal data very seriously. Access to these data is, therefore, limited to:

  1. the contact centre
  2. the region’s health, prevention and inspection services
  3. scientists associated with the COVID-19 Risk Assessment Group. Along with the Sciensano technicians who maintain the database, they will treat your data confidentially. All personal data received will be deleted by Sciensano before 9 June 2020. Data intended for scientific research will be kept in a separate environment under a pseudonym for up to 30 years after the patient’s death.

The contacts on your list will not hear your name when they are called. You will remain anonymous. The information you provide will at no time be used to verify your compliance with the measures. It will not be shared with the police, judiciary or other inspection bodies.

You can be contacted by phone, sms, e-mail or someone can visit you at home.

  • If you are a high-risk contact and have to stay at home for 10 days, you will receive an e-mail with a quarantine certificate.
  • If you are contacted, you may be asked for your national registration number. This will be used to prepare a PCR test and/or a quarantine certificate if necessary.

Frequently asked questions

    Who is currently tested?
    Detailed information on the screening procedure is available on the Sciensano website: https://epidemio.wiv-isp.be/ID/Pages/2019-nCoV_procedures.aspx.
    What exactly is contact tracing?

    Contact tracing is a preventative method of investigating with whom someone has been in contact if that person turns out to be a carrier of the coronavirus, or in some cases is very likely to be a carrier of the virus. If we can trace these people quickly, we can inform them that they may also be carriers of the virus and give them the right advice.

    Contact tracing is a method used worldwide to limit the spread of diseases and has already been used for measles, for example. In Belgium, contact investigation is a collaboration between the Walloon AVIQ, the Services of the United College (COCOM) in Brussels, the Flemish Agency for Care and Health and the Ministry of the German-speaking Community.

    Contact tracing requires the cooperation of people infected with Covid-19 , as they will be asked to identify their contacts. This cooperation is essential to help slow the spread of the virus.

    Why are we doing contact tracing now?
    Contact tracing is only feasible and useful when the number of infections is limited. During the peak of the number of infections, it was impossible to contact every ill person and ask who he or she had been in contact with. It will help us to identify a second wave of the virus in good time and to be able to intervene in order to slow down its spread.
    Am I obliged to cooperate with the contact tracing?
    Your contribution can help yourself and others. Thanks to your help, others can be informed and advised in good time. The more contacts we can trace in time, the smaller the risk of a new wave of infections. This is how we can avoid strict new measures together. Cooperation is therefore not compulsory, but is a form of solidarity and a civic duty. Cooperation is therefore not compulsory, but is a form of solidarity and a civic duty in the fight against Covid-19.
    Which contacts will I have to indicate and who will be traced?
    If you yourself have tested positive for Covid-19 or have suspected symptoms, it is important to know the contacts you had in the two days before your first symptoms appeared and up to the time you started your isolation. (e.g. family members, colleagues, a friend you took a walk with, the postman you talked to, etc.). If possible, your list should include the name, phone number, physical address and email address of these people. The following is a form to help you to complete this list : https://d34j62pglfm3rr.cloudfront.net/downloads/Liste+des+contacts+%C3%A0+remplir.pdf.
    Is my data sufficiently protected in this contact follow-up?

    Yes, the information will be treated in complete confidence.

    • The information you provide will only be used to give the necessary advice to your contacts. This is how you can help slow down the virus.

    • Only the authorised service will have access to your contact list. Not your work, family, school, police, other government services, etc.

    • If you are infected with Covid-19 and you stay or are in regular contact with a community such as a residential and care centre, an institution for the disabled, school, … then the reference doctor will be contacted.

    • The contacts on your list will not hear your name when they are called. You will remain anonymous.

    • The person who calls your contacts is sworn to secrecy. Your data will be stored in a secure government database.

    • The information you provide will at no time be used to verify your compliance with the measures. It will not be shared with the police, judiciary or other inspection bodies.

    How is the government notified?

    If you are ill, you should contact your GP. Your GP will prescribe a test in case of suspicion and your data will automatically be transferred to the secure database. The call centre will only be notified if your test was positive. In exceptional cases, the doctor may also pass on your details immediately to the call centre in order to speed up contact tracing. This only applies to strongly suspected Covid-19 cases.

    In any case, your GP will inform you of your results, positive or negative.

    When does contact tracing start?

    When you contact your doctor, he or she will have you undergo a screening test. You must immediately self-isolate at home. If the doctor believes that your Covid-19 contamination is very likely, he or she will immediately notify the contact centre and contact tracing will start. If the doctor believes that your contamination is possible, he or she will wait for the test result to notify the contact centre. If the result is positive, you and your contacts will receive a call or a visit from a staff member of the authorities and the contact tracing will start. If the result is negative, there will be no contact tracing unless your doctor is concerned that the test result may be wrong, based on their examination of your condition. Your doctor may therefore decide to initiate contact tracing.

    While waiting for the result of your test or the doctor’s decision to initiate tracing, you can start trying to make a list of the people you have had contact with in the two days prior to your symptoms (for example: family members, colleagues, a friend you took a walk with, the postman you talked to, etc.).The following is a form to help you to complete this list : https://d34j62pglfm3rr.cloudfront.net/downloads/Liste+des+contacts+%C3%A0+remplir.pdf.

    How will I be contacted?
    The staff member of the authorities may contact you in different ways: by phone via 02/214.19.19, by mail, email, or SMS via the number 8811. These are the only numbers that will be used. If you do not respond to the calls, a staff member may come to your home.
    What if I can't list everyone?

    It’s inherent to contact tracing that you cannot list everyone. This is okay. However, try to list as many contacts as possible so that we can give the right advice to all possible contacts. This is especially important for people with whom you have had close contact, i.e. with whom you have been in contact for more than 15 minutes at a distance of less than 1.5 metres.

    As a result, it remains extremely important that you continue to follow the basic approaches:

    • Stay at home if you are ill

    • Wash your hands often and thoroughly

    • Keep a 1.5-metre distance from other people

    • Limit your physical social contact as far as possible. Meet up with family and friends mainly through online applications.

    Can I go to work if I have been in contact with a Covid-19 patient?

    If you are a high-risk contact, which means that you have been in close contact with someone for a long time, for example with a colleague sitting next to you, you must spend 10 days in quarantine at home. This means you cannot go to work for 10 days. If you can work from home, you can continue doing so. If you cannot work from home, you will have to inform your employer that you will be absent for 10 days. If you work in an essential profession (e.g. as a nurse), it may be exceptional for you to be asked to work if this is necessary to ensure continuity of care. In doing so, strict conditions must be respected, which your employer will discuss with you.

    If you are a low-risk contact, which means that you have had very brief contact with, for example, a colleague who is not sitting next to you at work, then you do not need to go into isolation, but you do need to follow the basic approaches carefully. It is therefore best to work from home as far as possible. Is this not possible? Then you can go to work, but you must cover your nose and mouth with, for example, a face mask.

    In any case, if you develop suspected symptoms (fever, cough, breathing difficulties), self-isolate and contact your doctor.

    I have had contact with a high-risk contact. Am I now a high-risk contact too?
    No, you are a high-risk contact if you have been in contact with someone who is ill.
    What should I do if I have to go into home isolation when I am ill myself?
    • Call your doctor to inform him/her of the symptoms you are experiencing. If the doctor suspects Covid-19 contamination, he or she will have you undergo a test in a hospital, or may perform the test him or herself. You will also be asked for your phone number at the same time.

    • You will then undergo this test so that you and your doctor can determine your Covid-19 contamination or not.

    • You must stay at home for at least 7 days. If your symptoms last longer, then you must stay at home for longer.

    • You must not leave your home. You must not go shopping or go for a walk. You can sit in your own garden or on your own terrace. You can also empty your mailbox. You can have your groceries delivered or you can ask someone in your area to do this for you temporarily.

    • You must avoid contact with people in the at-risk group.

    • You must isolate yourself as much as possible from your housemates. This means you must eat and sleep separately.

    • Regularly ventilate the room in which you often stay.

    What should I do if I have to go into quarantine when I am a high-risk contact? 
    • You must stay in quarantine for 10 days.

    • Decontaminate frequently touched surfaces such as handles, taps, the table and ventilate rooms regularly.

    • It is best not to leave your home. For strictly necessary purchases such as food and medicine, you can go outside if no one else is available to help you purchase these items. Always wear a face mask and avoid contact with others. You must not receive visitors to your home.

    • Wear a face mask (for tips, you can take a look at: https://www.info-coronavirus.be/en/facemask/

    • Call your GP as soon as you get symptoms.

    I live with a person at risk (for example: a person over 65 years of age or a person with a chronic illness) and I have had contact with a person who is a carrier of Covid-19. Do I need to take any special precautions?
    We recommend that you apply the isolation advice that applies to patients as much as possible : self-isolate at the home of your vulnerable cohabitant, stay in one room, do not sleep together, use separate sanitary facilities, use separate cutlery, ventilate your home regularly, etc.