Policy responses for Belgium - HSRM


Policy responses for Belgium

1. Preventing transmission

The section on PREVENTING TRANSMISSION includes information on key public health measures that aim to prevent the further spread of the disease. It details how countries are advising the general public and people who (might) have the disease to prevent further spread, as well as measures in place to test and identify cases, trace contacts, and monitor the scale of the outbreak.

1.1 Health communication

From the beginning of May, the meetings of the National Security Council were systematically followed by a press conference of the Prime Minister to communicate the latest decisions. This press conference is broadcasted live on television channels.
In December 2020, a communication strategy on vaccination was developed, including the objective of continuously measuring public opinion in order to adapt communications accordingly. The objective is to achieve a vaccination coverage of at least 70% of the population.

More details on the communication strategy can be found at: https://d34j62pglfm3rr.cloudfront.net/downloads/Note_TF_Strategy_Vaccination_FR_0312_post_press.pdf

Specific efforts have also been made towards target groups. These initiatives are developed in collaboration with associations active in the field (intercultural actions, help for refugees, etc.) to define the form and content of the messages (e.g. there is a strong concern that the vaccine could hamper fertility in the African community). The federal website on vaccination offers general information sheets in 38 languages as well as videos in French sign language (but this is mostly about general safety measures). Further action is planned for blind people.

Also the federated entities have developed communication material towards some specific groups, i.e. Covid Breakers for the young (18-25) in Brussels.  

Some actions are directed towards specific points in time during the vaccination campaign. For instance, some federated entities foresee specific communications for indivduals at the time of receiving their vaccination and just afterwards (e.g., vaccination card).

During phase 1a of the vaccination campaign (residents and staff of nursing homes + staff in hospitals and in primary care), posters and other video material were distributed in the institutions concerned. The professionals concerned received instructions by email and were able to take part in specific webinars, relayed by professional associations (though unevenly across federated entities and across professions).

During phase 1b (citizens 65+, citizens 18/45-64 with co-morbidities, essential workers), significant resources will be mobilised to convince the population (social media, posters and brochures in pharmacies, organisation of debates, etc.)

The reaction of the Belgian Health Administration (Federal Public Service Health, Food chain safety and Environment) was prompt, with the launch of a crisis-website www.info-coronavirus.be on January 28th 2020. The site was ready to be used in the case of a health crisis. The website is available in the three national languages (Dutch, French, and German) and in English (for some parts). It is a robust resource and allows for automatic updates. It also rapidly provided a tutorial about how to sew home-made face-masks.

Links to this official (federal) website were placed on the home page of other official websites, namely the federated entities.  Twitter (February 7th), Facebook (February 24th) and Google spontaneously proposed to send their visitors/followers to this official website when terms related to COVID-19 were used, in order to counter fake news. This was free of charge and accompanied by free advertising credits.

On February 1st, a call-centre (0800/14689) was launched, starting with two respondents then rapidly grew to 150 by the end of March. This call-centre was outsourced to a private provider within a pre-existing framework contract.

Posters with essential hygiene messages (wash hands, sneeze in the elbow, etc.) were rapidly designed (internally). They were printed and sent by post to all municipalities, for them to distribute among their local collective structures (nursing homes, schools, etc.). Poster for self-printing were also made available on the website. Information sheets for families and relatives of infected people were made available to self-print. Material is also available in other languages, i.e. Arabic, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Romanian and Turkish.

Radio and television spots were organised on the public channels and then broadcasted free of charge by all channels (public and private) at a very high frequency, starting on February 18th.
The number of newly identified cases, hospital admissions and deaths are communicated daily since the beginning of March (start of the spreading of COVID-19 in Belgium) and a daily press-conference is broadcasted on the website. From March 13th a daily epidemiological report is also published by the Belgian scientific institute for Public Health, Sciensano (https://epidemio.wiv-isp.be/ID/Pages/default.aspx).

The media have been very active, with numerous special editions of news programmes, recurrent interventions of experts and spokespeople of the various working groups, in order to explain the latest developments to the general public. Many informal channels have joined the effort, when the main advertising sales agencies offered free spaces. Examples from the private sector are numerous (e.g. the main telephone operator changed the logo on every phone from ’Proximus’ to ‘StayHome Proximus’).

A consensus document on the rational and correct use of oral masks (which type of mask for who) was made public on the Sciensano website on April 14th (French: https://epidemio.wiv-isp.be/ID/Documents/Covid19/consensus%20on%20the%20use%20of%20masks_RMG_FR.pdf; Dutch: https://epidemio.wiv-isp.be/ID/Documents/Covid19/consensus%20on%20the%20use%20of%20masks_RMG_NL.pdf)

• FPS Public Health (2020). Coronavirus Covid-19. Brussels: Federal Public Service Health, Food chain safety and Environment (www.info-coronavirus.be, Accessed April 2020);
• Sciensano (2020). Coronavirus. Brussels: Sciensano (https://epidemio.wiv-isp.be/ID/Pages/default.aspx, Accessed April 2020);
• Flemish Agency for Care and Health (2020). Uitbraak coronavirus COVID-19. Brussels: Flemish Agency for Care and Health – Agentschap Zorg en Gezondheid (https://www.zorg-en-gezondheid.be/covid-19, Accessed April 2020);
• AVIQ (2020). Coronavirus 2019. Charleroi : Agency for a Quality Life-Agence pour une vie de Qualité (https://www.aviq.be/coronavirus.html, Accessed April 2020) ;
• Iriscare (2020). COVID-19. Brussels: Iriscare (http://www.iriscare.brussels/fr/professionnels/, Accessed April 2020);
• Ostbelgienlive (2020). Coronavirus: Fragen und Antworten. Eupen: Ostbelgienlive (http://www.ostbelgienlive.be/desktopdefault.aspx/tabid-6711/, Accessed April 2020);
• Personal communication with the FPS Pubic Health: Charlier Vinciane.