PTB-PVDA wants a guaranteed income for people in quarantine

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In Belgium, since 11 May, contact tracing has been in place. Contacts of infected persons will have to remain in home quarantine for 14 days if they are called by a tracer. With the government's current proposal, many people will suffer a loss of salary of 30% during their quarantine. For many families, this is another potential financial loss after the one caused by the lockdown. Sofie Merckx, MP of the PTB-PVDA, proposes that the salary would be maintained in case of quarantine: "To fight the coronavirus, we need to do our utmost to ensure that as many people as possible can follow the advice of contact tracers. That means everyone should be able to keep his income."

Contact tracing is the only way to prevent a new wave of the coronavirus epidemic. We know that people are contagious 48 hours before the first symptoms appear. By keeping all close contacts of corona patients in containment for 14 days (the maximum incubation period), we will break the chain of transmission. The government's proposal is that all close contacts should receive a quarantine certificate for the employer from their doctor. If we wish, we can telework from home. Those for whom this is not an option fall into temporary unemployment. This means that employees will lose at least 30 percent of their salary. Sofie Merckx, herself a general practitioner in Charleroi, answers: "I'm afraid a lot of patients will drop out if it turns out they could lose hundreds of euros in income because of quarantine."

A bad idea according to medical experts

Sofie Merckx explains how she assesses the consequences of this decision for her patients in the health centre of Medicine for the People: "The loss of salary in case of quarantine is unacceptable. After two months of technical unemployment, many families are already in difficulty. Adding a further period (possibly several) of 14 days of quarantine with a significant loss of salary is not a good idea. This may also jeopardize compliance. In recent weeks, all medical experts have stressed the importance of a guaranteed salary for the success of this project. Without effective contact tracing, it will be very difficult to control the virus in our country. Don't we have to do everything in our power to make it work?"

As long as there is no vaccine available, this contact tracing will be necessary. According to Sofie Merckx, this means that for some people, the bill can be steep: "It is not inconceivable that people meet several sick relatives or colleagues in succession. Imagine, for example, that for two or three months in a row, you lose 30 % of your income. The minister's decision jeopardizes public support and undermines the chances of success for this crucial project."

Low wages are mainly affected

According to Sofie Merckx, the system is not fair either: "Those who can work from home can keep their salary, those who cannot will suffer a loss of salary. It is therefore mainly those who already have the lowest wages today (cleaning ladies, manual workers...) who will suffer a further loss of income as a result of this measure."

Sofie Merckx gives a concrete example from her experience last week: "Sandy is a single mother and has been temporarily unemployed as a cleaning lady. She's already had a rough couple of months alone at home with her two kids. A further loss of income, for example if one of her children becomes ill, is simply no longer tenable."

The PTB-PVDA proposes to guarantee 100 % per cent of the income

Sofie Merckx is going to table a bill to quickly overcome this problem. "According to a Royal Decree of 1996, there is a system of prophylactic leave for infectious diseases such as meningitis or scarlet fever. It is logical that the quarantine certificate of contact tracing should qualify for this system, and that it should be adapted so that the full income is guaranteed." In the event of prophylactic leave, the person concerned is immediately covered by health insurance. The PTB-PVDA's proposal will be to have employers pay the difference between the health insurance allowance and the full salary. Another option is to have the employer make up the difference with economic unemployment. Sofie Merckx: "In any case, wage guarantee is positive for both employees and employers. The coronavirus epidemic is not over and it is important to do everything possible to contain its spread. If close contacts of a sick person ignore quarantine advice for financial reasons and therefore continue to work while potentially contagious, everyone will suffer the consequences. Investing in this area means investing in prevention. The costs of a second wave can be much higher and that is what we must avoid at all costs", concludes Sofie Merckx.