First coronavirus contact tracers set to begin work

Summary

Around 50 civil servants volunteer to run the system until a contract is agreed

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Contact tracing for coronavirus cases in Flanders will begin on Monday. A team of around 50 civil servants will carry out the checks for a trial period, until the government of Flanders can appoint a company or other partner to take over the task.

Tracking down anyone who may have been exposed to the coronavirus is an important part of Belgium’s plans for easing restrictions on the economy and social life. Each time there is a new case of Covid-19, contact tracers will ask that person who they have been close to in recent days and alert these contacts to the risks involved.

The process of appointing a company or other partner to run contract tracing in Flanders is still under way, so the government this week appealed to its staff for volunteers to fill the gap. “More than 90 officials have already indicated they would like to co-operate as contact tracers in the coming trial period," said Bart Somers  (Open VLD), Flemish minister responsible for the civil service.

Around 50 volunteers will receive a half-day of training before starting work on Monday, when the restrictions begin to be relaxed. They include tax inspectors, legal assistants and reception staff.

As well as picking up new cases, the trial period will test contact tracing procedures such as questionnaires for people with the virus and the advice issued to their contacts. Most of this work will be done over the telephone.

High and low

Higher-risk contacts, who have had long-term close or physical contact with the sick person, will be told to self-isolate for 14 days, to watch for symptoms, and to measure their temperature twice a day.

People in shorter or more distant contacts are considered a lower risk. They will be told to pay extra attention to hygiene and distancing rules, and to wear a mask when outside or meeting people. They should also check for symptoms and monitor their temperatures.

The news that an army of 1,200 contact tracers would be needed once the lockdown ends has also spurred the general public to action. "More than 1,000 citizens have spontaneously registered as candidates," Somers said. "It shows how everyone wants to do their bit to defeat this virus.”

These offers will be taken up and screened by the partner eventually appointed to take on the work.

Photo: Belga/Xinhua/Zhang Cheng