In 2008, in line with the WHO International Health Regulation, Belgium put in place a Risk Assessment Group (RAG) and a Risk Management Group (RMG) to ensure optimal health crisis management. The RAG, involving permanent (public health) experts supported by specific experts, analyses events causing possible risk to health and proposes prevention and control measures to the RMG. The RMG, composed of health authorities, decides on measures to be taken and follows-up the implementation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the RAG provided advises on a wide range of topics. Among those, a weekly assessment of the epidemiological situation was performed to guide policy makers. We present here the method used for this assessment, and the link with recommended measures.
A comprehensive evaluation of the epidemiological situation was performed on a weekly basis using basic (cases, hospitalisations, testing, positivity rates, …) and supporting (waste water, nursing homes, schools, mobility, …) surveillance indicators.
The first epidemiological risk assessment on COVID-19 was performed by the RAG on January 20, 2020, followed by regular updates. From August 2020 onwards, a weekly update was provided, with as of early May 2022, 87 weekly assessments done. In addition, a dynamic tool was developed to link the epidemiological situation to a risk level, using colours and/or phases. The indicators and thresholds evolved over time, depending on advancing knowledge, immunity and vaccination of the population, changes in test strategy and new variants.
Discussion and conclusion
The assessment by experts from different disciplines in an autonomous scientific advisory body and the classification of the risk according to different levels supported policy makers to decide on non-pharmaceutical interventions and testing strategy, at national and regional level.