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Contact tracing: slowing down the virus together

In order to slow down the spread of the virus, it is important to quickly find out who is ill with the coronavirus, and with whom this person has had recent contact. This person can in turn become infected and transmit the virus two days before showing any symptoms. This preventive method. Through contact tracing, together we can prevent a second wave of the coronavirus.

Contact tracing involves investigating who a carrier of Covid-19 has been in contact with. If we trace these people quickly, we can inform them that they have been in contact with a carrier of the virus. This way, he/she can pay close attention to personal hygiene and everyone can help to slow down the coronavirus.

This method of contact tracing is not new. It is used worldwide to limit the spread of diseases such as meningitis or measles. 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.

Contact tracing is one of the measures we can take together to prevent the further spread of the virus.These basic precautions are we can take together to prevent the further spread of the virus. By applying the basic approaches correctly, you can help ensure that the virus is not transmitted to others:

  • Thoroughly washing hands regularly
  • Keeping a distance of 1.5 metres if possible
  • Limiting physical contacts
  • Staying at home if sick
  • Wearing a face mask in place with lots of people.

Read the frequently asked questions

I have COVID-19 symptoms myself

  1. If you have symptoms such as a fever, coughing or shortness of breath, you may be a carrier of the coronavirus.

    • Stay at home from then on.

    • Call your GP and describe your symptoms. Your doctor will give you the appropriate advice. If the doctor suspects that you have Covid-19, he or she will test you at the hospital or possibly perform a test him or herself. You will also be asked to provide your telephone number at that point.

    • You will then undergo this test so that you and your doctor can be sure of your Covid contamination.

    • Try to make a list of the people you have had contact with over the past few days. Think of 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 contact list should preferably contain their name, phone number, address, date of birth and e-mail address.

    • Your GP or the doctor performing the test will notify the competent authorities so that contact tracing can start quickly.

  2. A government employee will call you. 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?

  • Self-isolate at home for 14 days.

  • Regularly disinfect surfaces that are often touched, such as handles, taps, tables, and regularly ventilate your house.

  • Cover your nose and mouth (using a face mask, for example).

  • You can go outside in your own garden or on your terrace, and you can empty your own mailbox.

  • 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.

  • Call your GP if you get symptoms like a fever or coughing.

  • You will have to be tested and you may be tested twice. The first test will be done at the start of your quarantine. A possible second test may be done at least 9 days after the last risk contact and taking into account a period of 5 days between the two tests. If the second PCR test is negative, the isolation may be ended, i.e. not earlier than 10 days after exposure.

    • If the result of one of these tests is positive, the close contact will become a confirmed case: contact tracing will begin and the patient will remain in isolation at home for a period of 7 days.
    • If the results are negative, the 14-day isolation period remains applicable.
  • Are you a care worker?

    • In this case, it is better to stay at home. If your employer explicitly asks you to, you can continue to work if it is absolutely necessary and there are no other solutions. However, you must wear the necessary protective equipment. In this case, strict hygiene and protection conditions must also be observed, which your employer will discuss with you.
    • The staff member of the authorities who contacted you will likely contact you again at regular intervals to monitor the evolution of your situation.
    • You will have to be tested and you may be tested twice. In your case, it is the test performed at the end of the quarantine that is the most important and this must be performed between day 11 and day 13 of your isolation. In agreement between the GP and the patient, a first PCR test can already be performed during the first week after exposure.

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?

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

  • Regularly disinfect surfaces that are often touched, such as handles, taps, tables, and regularly ventilate your house.

  • Keep a sufficient distance for the next 14 days. Pay extra attention to this.

  • Wash your hands very thoroughly and often.

  • Cover your nose and mouth when leaving your home (using a face mask, for example). This means you can go to work or to school.

  • Call your GP and self-isolate 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.

  • TWe 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.

How will I be contacted?

The government employee may contact you in various ways. This could be done by telephone on 02/214.19.19 or SMS via 8811. Only those phone numbers will be used to contact you. These are the only numbers which will be used.

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 14 days in isolation at home. This means you cannot go to work for 14 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 14 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.

    Will I be tested if I am a contact of someone who now turns out to be ill?

    Are you a low-risk contact with no symptoms? Then you will not be tested. Are you getting symptoms anyway? Then call your GP. They will determine whether a laboratory test is necessary.

    Are you a high-risk contact? If you have a lot of professional contact with people in the at-risk group (e.g. people older than 65 years), you will be tested at the end of the 14 days you have to stay at home. If you have symptoms yourself, you will be tested sooner.

    If you have any symptoms, call your doctor. He or she will determine if it is necessary for you to have a laboratory test.

    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 home isolation when I am a high-risk contact? 
    • You must stay home for 14 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.

    • Are you a health care provider?
      In this case, it is best to stay at home. If your employer explicitly asks you to, you can continue to work if it is absolutely necessary to provide care and there are no other options. However, you must wear the necessary protective equipment. In this regard, you must observe strict hygiene and protection conditions, which your employer will discuss with you.
      The staff member of the authorities who contacts you will probably contact you again at regular intervals to check how your situation is progressing.

    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.