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Inter-ministerial conference on public health

The Inter-ministerial Conference on Public Health took place on Monday morning 4 May, to discuss, among other things, testing and monitoring strategies in respect of COVID-19.

Introduction

In order to gradually ease the COVID-19 measures, the chain of infections must be broken. The following activity streams can help support this:

  • systematic and repeated testing to detect infected individuals;

  • tracing of people who have been in close contact with infected people in the last few days.

It is crucial that the testing and monitoring strategies are synchronised. The coming week is a start-up phase during which these activities will be gradually implemented.

Testing strategy

The test criteria have been expanded to test all symptomatic patients. People who have been in contact with infected patients can also be tested according to established guidelines (see https://covid-19.sciensano.be/sites/default/files/Covid19/COVID-19_procedure_contact_FR.pdf ). Any individual doctor may carry out the tests on his patients, provided he has the sampling equipment required as well as the necessary protective equipment. He will then work in close collaboration with the laboratory which usually processes his analysis requests and will obtain his supplies from this same laboratory. Alternatively, he can also refer his patients to a triage centre set up by a circle of general practitioners, which will have testing facilities in place and organised itself for this purpose. Triage centres wanting to offer testing facilities must be able to receive both patients referred by general practitioners and those who are referred via the tracing system. Each triage centre can choose the laboratory it works with for the analysis of samples.

Triage centres that have the analyses carried out by the federal testing platform will be supplied with protective equipment and sampling devices by the federal platform. This platform will also ensure the samples are collected and dispatched to analysis laboratories.

The patient’s general practitioner can consult the results of the tests carried out on a results server, even if the sample was taken by someone else, such as a triage centre or the coordinating doctor of a nursing home. During this coming week, it will also be ensured that the attending physician who manages the patient’s overall medical record receives automatic notification of the test result in their secure e-mail inbox and can therefore contact the patient immediately, even if they have not performed the sample collection and prescribed the test themselves.

Contact tracing strategy

When a patient is tested, the doctor performing the test will ask the patient to record their contacts over the last few days.

From the middle of this week, patients infected with Covid-19 will be contacted by a call centre to ask who they have been in close contact with over the past few days. The form they filled out may be helpful during this call. People who have recently been in close contact with an infected person will also be called by the call centre. Their state of health will be assessed and, on that basis, they will be asked to take the necessary measures.

The infected patients' general practitioner will already ask them whether they have been in close contact with certain people, such as people living in the same household. In this case, the general practitioner can issue a quarantine certificate for these people, even if the individuals concerned do not (yet) show symptoms and are fit for work. Individuals who have been issued with such a quarantine certificate must comply with the isolation measures. They can, however, work from home.

Under certain, strictly defined conditions this quarantine certificate may also be issued by the call centre under the responsibility of a hygiene inspector.

The quarantine certificate

On the basis of the National Labour Council agreements, an adapted medical certificate has been developed for the duration of the Covid-19 crisis, which can be used both for face-to-face and telephone consultations. This is a uniform model that applies to all companies.

This certificate is applicable for two situations:

  • the employee is unable to work;

  • the employee is fit to work, but cannot travel to and from work (“quarantine certificate”).

The scope of the certificate in question will be extended to all persons, irrespective of their social status. The certificate models concerned are published on the website of the National Institute for Health and Disability Insurance (INAMI-RIZIV) from 4 May 2020. They will also be integrated into the software packages of general practitioners during the same week.

The social security portal provides information on the financial consequences for the persons concerned (see https://www.socialsecurity.be/citizen/fr/static/infos/coronavirus/index.htm ).

In summary, employees, self-employed persons and civil servants unable to work receive ordinary sick pay after a possible period of guaranteed salary. Employees and public servants who are asked to quarantine themselves may continue to receive a salary to the extent that telework is possible. Where this is not possible, employees receive temporary unemployment benefits on the basis of the medical certificate of quarantine which they submit to the employer.

Self-employed persons who are quarantined will be able to apply for a bridging allowance via their social insurance fund.

The next Inter-ministerial Conference on Public Health will take place on 6 May 2020. This press release is written jointly on behalf of the Ministers forming the Inter-ministerial Conference on Public Health:

  • Maggie De Block - Federal Government
  • Wouter Beke - Flemish Government
  • Christie Morreale - Walloon Government
  • Valérie Glatigny - Government of the French Community
  • Bénédicte Linard - Government of the French Community
  • Alain Maron - Joint Community Commission and French Community Commission
  • Elke Van den Brandt - Joint Community Commission and Flemish Community Commission
  • Antonios Antoniadis - Government of the German-speaking Community
  • In the presence of Philippe De Backer, Head of Taskforces Testing and Shortages

The Inter-ministerial on Public Health Conference is organised and supported by the DG Healthcare of the FPS Public Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment.