Belgian production companies are increasingly concerned about the second corona wave. Infections and quarantines are on the rise.
While virologist Steven Van Gucht warns that there could soon be 20,000 new corona infections per day in our country, the disease and quarantine cases are starting to weigh on companies, from the Flemish ports and car factories to bakery chains.
The technology federation Agoria calls on the government to make rapid tests available to companies as soon as possible, ‘otherwise there is a risk of production in some companies coming to a standstill due to a shortage of workers’.
At Audi Brussels, which employs 3,000 people, car production has been delayed several times this week because too many people had to be quarantined. ‘More and more cases of corona are popping up,’ says ABVV unionist Franky De Schrijver. ‘The company is quick to quarantine people. There are now 150 to 200. ‘ “Too many people are in quarantine,” affirms trade unionist Ronny Liedts (ACV). ‘We perform rapid tests in the factory, where people get the results after 15 or 30 minutes. As a result, many employees have to be quarantined for ten days, even if they are not sick. That has been a problem for a while. The factory does recruit interim staff. But if they can’t start soon enough, the band slows down. This week the band had been playing a quarter slower for two or three days. ‘
At Audi Brussels, the band was delayed several times this week because too many people are in quarantine.
The Volvo Car factory in Ghent, which employs 6,500 people, is not in trouble yet. ‘But we are monitoring the situation very closely. The number of corona cases is also on the rise. If employees stay at home, for example because their child is infected, we sometimes send colleagues from the same team to quarantine, ‘says spokeswoman Barbara Blomme.
The ArcelorMittal steel group is also seeing a sharp rise in the number of infections. ‘But for the time being we can continue to produce’, says spokesman Jan Cornelis, ‘both in Ghent and Liège. But we don’t know what is coming our way. ‘
ArcelorMittal has maintained a very strict preventive policy since the first outbreak. ArcelorMittal in Ghent and Liège employs 5,000 people. Since April, the steel giant has been carrying out a temperature measurement for everyone who comes to work. Random checks are also conducted during working hours. Employees who come from a red zone from abroad are tested. There is also a system of internal contact tracing. ‘Our alarm policy has four phases. Phase 4 is normal functioning. Phase 1 is lockdown. We are now in phase 2. We are looking at what is possible to increase homeworking. ‘
The number of infections is also increasing at the steel wire producer Bekaert. “All in all, it is not too bad in Belgium,” says spokeswoman Katelijn Bohez. ‘There is a larger increase in our factories in the Czech Republic. We monitor everything from day to day worldwide. ‘ Bohez does not want to give figures: “It might be different tomorrow.” There is no fear of a shortage of workers and a decline in production for the time being, “but that can change every day.”
The technology federation Agoria called on the government to make rapid tests available as soon as possible. “We have to increase the testing capacity as soon as possible,” says Agoria CEO Marc Lambotte. ‘We don’t see any major production problems at the companies for the time being. But if the figures continue to rise like this, they are likely to be there in the coming weeks. ‘
Due to the adjustment of the government’s testing policy, only people with symptoms are tested. As a result, for people with a high-risk contact without symptoms, the quarantine period is not seven but again ten days.
“Rapid tests would be of great added value,” says Nele Van Malderen, spokeswoman for bakery group La Lorraine. ‘If our employees have had risk contacts, we quickly isolate them. It is a problem that not everyone is tested anymore. ‘ Van Malderen does not rule out that production will run into difficulties at some point. ‘We are not yet at the peak of April. We didn’t stop production then either. ‘
Does the beer giant AB InBev expect a major staff outage? “We don’t know what will happen, but we are preparing for it,” said spokeswoman Laure Stuyck. ‘We are looking at whether we can get quick tests. Although the question arises what we can do legally with the results of such a quick test. We cannot have people without symptoms tested. That could be the case with a major outbreak in one of our breweries. ‘
There is also concern at the sauce maker Vandemoortele. ‘We are seeing absenteeism slowly increasing again,’ says personnel director Marc Croonen. ‘Now we’re on
5 percent absence. That is not too bad. But in one factory 12 percent of the workforce is at home. Rapid tests would be very welcome. In principle, we can already buy them now, but they are too expensive. ‘
It is a great challenge in the port of Zeebrugge to complete all work on time, says Marc Adriansens of the Zeebrugge employers’ center Cewez. ’10 percent of the nearly 1,900 dock workers are in quarantine. Fortunately, the port will continue to run fully.
In the port of Antwerp, 6 percent of the approximately 6,800 dock workers are ill, a normal level. Nevertheless, the Antwerp Port Authority decided on Friday to develop a coordinated ‘port-wide’ test approach: systematic testing of people in critical functions and targeted testing to avoid quarantining people at home unnecessarily. The port is also looking for additional test capacity.
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