While Brussels has become one of the dark red corona hotspots in Europe, local policymakers are largely blind in their fight against the virus.
The Brussels mayors have to deal with the corona pandemic with extremely limited data. They do not receive detailed information about which neighborhoods or age groups are most affected. That threatens to take a few more weeks.
This is remarkable, because such data has been available in Flanders for two months. They allowed a socio-economic analysis to be carried out in August, which showed that the virus is mainly advancing in poor neighborhoods. In the group of the 10 percent lowest incomes, the infections are twice as high as average.
In Brussels, we are waiting for those data, even though the region has become the corona hot spot of Belgium. The number of new infections per week in the Brussels Region is more than three times as high as during the summer peak in Antwerp. The sickle of poorer communities in the northwest has been particularly affected. For the time being, however, data is only available in Brussels at the level of the 19 municipalities and it is not possible to zoom in.
We would very much like to know which age groups or neighborhoods have been hit harder and on which points we score worse than elsewhere in Brussels.
Such neighborhood figures are nevertheless important to guide policy, according to various mayors of Brussels municipalities. The lack of detailed data is frustrating as it forces local policymakers to piece together a picture of exactly where the virus is spreading in their densely populated territory.
This makes it complex to uncover outbreaks and conduct contact tracing to avoid further escalation of the virus. The result is, among other things, that this week in full panic it was decided to push through a blunt, general measure such as the closure of catering establishments for a month.
‘We don’t know where the clusters are located specifically. We try to work with what is available. A mayor is supposed to protect the population as much as possible. This prevents a targeted reaction, ”said the cabinet of Emir Kir, the mayor of Saint-Josse-ten-Node.
“We would very much like to know which age groups or neighborhoods are hit harder, and on which points we score worse than elsewhere in Brussels,” says Rachid Bargoutti, spokesman for the Molenbeek mayor Catherine Moureaux (PS). ‘Imagine that more young people are infected with us, then we can work on that. The lack of data does not help us to take action. ‘
Molenbeek bases its policy on the much rougher figures for the entire municipality and the number of positive cases per hundred tests. By checking to what extent infected residents live at the same address, the municipal council deduces that 40 percent of positive cases contract the virus in the family circle.
Over the past 14 days, 945 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants were added in Molenbeek. This means that the municipality has the worst score in all of Belgium. After the other Brussels municipalities of Sint-Joost-ten-Node, Sint-Gillis and Koekelberg (also in the top five in terms of infections), Sint-Jans-Molenbeek is the most densely populated municipality in the country.
Some mayors wonder whether the lack of data at the neighborhood level means that such data simply does not exist.
A week and a half ago, Molenbeek tightened up its policy. Since 2 October, the mouth mask obligation has been tightened and the public in sports halls is prohibited. To prevent large families from coming together to mourn death in an apartment that is too small, the municipality has opened a corona-safe ‘salle de condoleances’.
The question is why the Brussels municipalities are still tackling the crisis without neighborhood data. The mayors say that this information is with the Brussels Region and does not reach them. Some wonder whether the lack of data at the neighborhood level means that such data simply does not exist.
In the regional government, everyone we contacted – including Prime Minister Rudi Vervoort (PS) – refers to Ecolo Minister Alain Maron. He says that the Brussels corona commissioner, Inge Neven, is working on the data.
The situation remains confusing, at a time when the corona figures in Brussels are skyrocketing and the call for data is loud. According to Neven, the region already provides additional information about clusters and specific situations. She says that the detailed information is now being added to the Flemish Care Atlas, in which Flemish mayors have been able to look up detailed information since the end of August. That exercise should be completed before the end of October.