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Belgium Launches a New Testing Strategy to Try to Halt the Spread of COVID

Αssociated Press

A Belgian Army medic suits up as she prepares to deliver lunch to patients with COVID-19 at the St. Michiel Hospital in Brussels, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

BRUSSELS — Belgian health authorities are launching a new coronavirus testing strategy to try to halt the spread of the disease, incorporating rapid antigen kits with more reliable and standard molecular tests.

Until now, the country has relied on standard kits, known as PCR tests, which detect the genetic material of the virus. Rapid antigen tests provide quicker results but are not as reliable.

Belgium’s top government coronavirus official Pedro Facon said Wednesday that a task force is being set afoot to move the country into what is dubbed testing strategy 2.0.

Facon says that “scientific studies are showing that in patients with symptoms, rapid antigen tests are almost as reliable as PCR tests if they are done in the first five days after the symptoms appear.”

He says that in cases where people are strongly suspected to have the disease but produce a negative rapid test, a separate PCR test will be conducted to reduce the risk of cases slipping through.

Belgium is one of the European countries worst hit by the virus in per capita terms. As of Wednesday, more than 561,000 people had contracted the disease in a country with a population of around 11.5 million people. Over 15,900 have died.