PTB-PVDA submits a proposal for a coronavirus contingency plan

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The PTB-PVDA demands that Belgium move up a gear in the fight against coronavirus and has tabled a proposal in Parliament in order for the necessary funds to be made available in the framework of the budget discussions. “The measures currently on the agenda are far from sufficient to protect people”, says Sofie Merckx, general practitioner and member of parliament for the PTB-PVDA. “This view is also shared by international experts from the World Health Organization (WHO). We must act now, public health must take precedence over short-term economic interests.”

corona plan

On 11 March, the Parliament’s Finance Committee examinedthe draft bill on "provisional twelfths" for April, May and June (*). The PTB-PVDA has tabled a budget amendment aimed at setting up funds to finance an action plan against the coronavirus. The left-wing party is planning a first tranche of €105 million for prevention, an increase in hospital capacity and additional social security funding in order to protect workers directly or indirectly affected by the coronavirus.

One: Expanding teams in charge of tracing sources and contacts

In order to contain the spread of the virus as much as possible, every effort must be made to isolate and quarantine, not only infected persons but also their relatives. Sofie Merckx explains that “in the city of Wuhan, more than 1,800 epidemiological teams of at least five persons each have been deployed for this purpose. The World Health Organization praises this rigorous approach, and recommends that other countries commit themselves to this path to the maximum extent possible. And yet, in our country, the teams responsible for this task are cruelly understaffed.”

In our country, the search for sources and contacts of infected people is the responsibility of the regional Health Ministers. Sofie Merckx continues: “However, the special law empowers the federal government, especially in times of health crisis, to take national measures for prophylaxis. In this context, we propose that the necessary resources be made available, at the federal level, for the creation of temporary epidemiological teams.”

The PTB-PVDA proposal foresees 250 teams of 5 people each to be deployed locally as required. These teams will operate under the authority of a Federal Coronavirus Commissioner, to be appointed. They will have to apply WHO guidelines on contact tracing and quarantine all close contacts of infected persons.

Two: increasing hospital capacity

The World Health Organization also stresses the need to ensure adequate hospital capacity to deal with the most serious cases of coronavirus contamination. "The number of intensive care beds is crucial in this respect, especially in order to be able to treat at-risk patients suffering from respiratory failure in the best possible way,” says Merckx. In the worst-case scenario, virologist Steven Van Gucht, chairman of the coronavirus scientific committee, expects 2,000 to 3,000 hospitalizations, including 500 to 700 in intensive care. “This is going to put enormous pressure on our hospitals. There are now only 150 beds available in our country for people infected with coronavirus. There is an urgent need to make the necessary resources available to expand this capacity and to be ready to receive new patients in the best possible conditions”, says Sofie Merckx.

Three: strengthening social security for the workers concerned

In the third part of its action plan, the PTB-PVDA is planning additional means to strengthen social security. “Workers must not become the victims of this crisis. If they are directly or indirectly affected by the coronavirus, they must be able to benefit from a maximum protection against loss of income”, defends Sofie Merckx. “In order to do this, it is necessary to be able to call upon different social security systems, such as health insurance or the possibility of temporary unemployment. Social security is there to cushion shocks in times of crisis”, adds Sofie Merckx. However, it needs therefore to be adequately funded, especially when this funding has been under pressure for years due to the reduction of employers' social security contributions by successive governments.”

With its action plan, the PTB-PVDA is putting on the table a series of constructive measures that the left-wing party intends to propose to combat this epidemic. “We follow international health experts who are calling on governments to take strong action as soon as possible”, concludes Merckx. “And we can only stand behind the scientific journal The Lancet when it states that short-term economic interests should not take precedence over public health protection.”

(*) The formation of a federal government in Belgium remains blocked since the elections of 26 May 2019. The government in charge of current affairs cannot draw up a new budget for 2020 and has to present a bill every quarter for a provisional budget, based on the average monthly budget of the previous year (the annual budget divided by 12).