Why Belgium has the highest coronavirus death rate in the world

Basic information
Date of placement
22
0
0

By counting fatalities in care homes early on, authorities understood how vulnerable elderly people are to Covid-19. Leo Cendrowicz reports from Brussels.

World | The Independent

It is rare for Donald Trump to credit other countries with world records, but at a press briefing last month the US President unveiled a list that put Belgium at the top. Unfortunately for Belgium, it was a ranking of deaths from the coronavirus. According to numbers collated by the Johns Hopkins University, Belgium leads the world in deaths per head of population, with the latest count on Friday showing it at 665 per million. By comparison, Britain’s rate is 394, the US’s is 193, Spain’s is 525, and Italy’s is 463. So why is Belgium’s relative death toll so high?

In many ways, Belgium was well protected to weather the virus storm: it moved relatively swiftly to impose lockdown restrictions and its healthcare system is recognized as one of the best in the world. Yet as of Friday, it had recorded a total of 7,703 coronavirus deaths and 49,032 cases. In absolute fatalities, Belgium is in sixth place worldwide. Germany, next door, has registered just 6,632 deaths, but it has a population of 83 million, compared to Belgium’s 11.5 million.

But Belgium’s high numbers have less to do with the spread of the disease and more to do with the way it counts fatalities. Its figures include all the deaths in the country’s more than 1,500 nursing homes, even those untested for the virus. These numbers add up to more than half of the overall figure.

Download the new Independent Premium app

Sharing the full story, not just the headlines

Download now

According to Belgium's Federal Public Service for Health, just 46 per cent of the country's total official deaths were in hospitals where coronavirus cases were confirmed. But 53 per cent of the Belgian tally, or 4,100 people, were from care homes, and of these, 84 per cent are suspected but unconfirmed coronavirus deaths.

A man wearing a mask walks in Grand Place of Brussels, Belgium (EPA)

Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmés says the government chose “full transparency when communicating deaths linked to Covid-19,” even if it leads to “numbers that are sometimes overestimated.” Health Minister Maggie De Block says Belgium is setting an example in diagnosing the disease. “In Europe, no country counts like the others. We have the most detailed method,” she said.

As the World Health Organization (WHO) points out, measuring mortality is tricky as clinicians have to determine if Covid-19 is a contributing or an underlying cause of death, and countries have different ways of issuing death certificates. But other countries are now adding care home deaths to their overall tally, including Britain – although the UK does not go as far as including those not confirmed by tests.

Steven Van Gucht, the head of the viral disease division at the Sciensano public-health institute, says he is not bothered by charts showing Belgium at the top. “If you want to compare our numbers with other countries, then you have to divide it by two,” he says. Mr Van Gucht, who is also a virology professor at Ghent University, says the measure also helped increase political pressure to do more in care homes. “We do this because we want to save lives. In that way, the system worked,” he says.

But the system is controversial, as it means deaths from diabetes, heart failure, hypertension and other problems are included in the Covid-19 tally. Virologist Marc Van Ranst, from Leuven University (KUL), has described it as “stupid” because it gives the impression that the coronavirus is the only cause of death in care homes.

Belgium’s decision also showed how exposed elderly people are. Vincent Fredericq, the director-general of care home federation Femarbel, says the elderly were left behind in the rush to prepare hospitals. “They saw what happened in Italy and how their hospitals were overwhelmed. So there were instructions to hospitalize people from care homes as little as possible,” he says. “We were treated like the second class. And in the end, the hospitals were not overwhelmed – they actually had spare beds available in the intensive care units.” Indeed, even at the disease’s peak in Belgium, in early April, ICUs were only at 57 per cent capacity.

Belgium is now testing the more than 240,000 residents and staff at nursing homes, and the early figures show a 9 per cent infection rate for care home residents and 4 per cent for personnel. But Mr Fredericq admits that it is hard to predict how many people died from the coronavirus in care homes. “The average age of residents is 85-86, and their average stay is just 16 months. There is an inevitable high mortality, so they could have died anyway,” he says.

Belgium also benefits from a relative political calm, and firm popular backing for the prime minister: Mrs Wilmés is widely praised for her calm, clear and reassuring leadership. Scientists, like Mr Van Gucht, lead the daily briefings, not politicians. And Belgians generally comply with the restrictions, despite the occasional ‘lockdown parties’.

Mr Van Gucht says that Belgium’s measured response was even helped by the country’s notoriously fractious party politics. “Yes, the political landscape is divided and diverse, but that made the politicians more willing to listen to expert scientific advice,” he says. But he does believe that geography may have raised the numbers: not only is Belgium a densely populated country, but it is at the crossroads of Europe and its capital Brussels is a very international city.

Officials now believe that the main wave of infections came from Italy in the last week of February. “We were hit hard and suddenly in carnival holidays,” says Mr Van Gucht. “Italy is very popular with Belgians at that time of the year: the food is good, the ski is good, and you can go by car. We know it came from there because when we checked the genetic sequences, there were multiple interactions in Italy.”

Belgium now seems to have flattened the curve: on Friday, it reported 130 fatalities overall (83 in care homes), and 513 new cases. The first phase of Belgium’s exit from the lockdowns will begin on Monday, with certain shops re-opening, and if the numbers stay low, schools will restart later this month.

As for the charts, Belgium may stay at the top for a while. But Mr Van Gucht insists the method was the only honest way to do it. “History will show that Belgium got its numbers straight – that is the only thing the charts show,” he says.

  • Why Belgium has the highest coronavirus death rate in the world photo


(0)
0.0
Dislike 0
ОТН 0
Like 0

News list


15:50 Home prices in NL to increase 4% this year: ABN Amro
15:43 ‘Artefact detectives’ in Iraq aim to end the theft of their history
15:39 Archaeologists & filmmakers dig up the past of UAE’s Shamash temple
15:30 Moderation
15:05 [Ticker] Sweden halts Iran Air flights after crash
15:01 Middle East crisis: EU's delicate balancing act between Washington and Tehran
15:00 Dutch soldiers in Iraq safe, together, Defense Min. says
14:59 Outrage over reports EU-funding linked to forced labour in Eritrea
14:45 Meeting between the College of Commissioners and the Members of the Parliamentary Groups
14:33 [Ticker] Spanish court: EP must end Catalan MEP immunity
14:10 Boy, 10, randomly assaulted by woman on Haarlem street
14:01 Dutch cabinet now in favor of new fireworks limits and regulations
14:00 Girls more likely to be harassed, stalked online
13:51 2nd EU Clean Air Forum (Bratislava, 28-29 November 2019) - Part 2/3
13:49 [Ticker] Orban to offer free IVF in anti-immigrant move
13:27 Hate speech has 'no place' in Austria, says Kurz, after Bosnian-born minister receives abuse
13:20 Dutch car rolls in Belgium; deceased victims discovered hours later
13:00 Trump proposes 'NATOME': NATO expanded to MidEast
12:35 Lack of career prospects leaves care workers to quit, says report
12:35 Singer songwriter Jeangu Macrooy is Dutch Eurovision entry- AD
12:35 Defrosted kingfisher rejoins museum collection of dead animals
12:35 Saba again present at Holiday Fair - Saba News
12:35 Politicians should take responsibility for their own laws, says legal chief
12:35 ChristenUnie calls for firework clubs, backs ban on consumer sales
12:35 Good weather will bring clear views of partial lunar eclipse
12:35 'Explosive' growth in Amsterdam hotels despite stricter limits
12:35 More violent incidents at New Year, but fewer people are arrested
12:30 Number of hotels in Amsterdam region skyrocketing: report
12:05 [Ticker] Von der Leyen: 'Influential' EU means talk and trade
12:00 Pope Francis: "US-Iran tensions threaten rebuilding of Iraq"
11:40 More than 9,300 incidents over New Year's: police
11:30 Friends of plane crash victims mourn loss
11:21 EC Midday press briefing of 10/01/2020
11:20 2nd EU Clean Air Forum (Bratislava, 28-29 November 2019) - Part 1/3
11:18 Croatian Presidency of EU Council: press conference opening remarks by President von der Leyen
11:15 Croatian Presidency of EU Council: opening remarks by Croatian Prime Minister and President of EC
11:00 DUTCH RAILROAD CROSSING - Geldermalsen - Voetakkerweg
11:00 DUTCH RAILROAD CROSSING - Prinsenbeek - Spoorstraat
10:50 Girl, 10, dies after falling from asylum center's window
10:43 Compilatie 24H ‘Ontdek je stad’ 2019
10:32 Ontdek Amerfoort #Citytrip
10:26 UK accused of 'behaving like cowboys' over EU database copying
10:26 Men in west London have highest male life expectancy in EU - Life expectancy
10:24 Ursula Von Der Leyen and Croatian PM Andrej Plenkovic talk to the press | LIVE
10:00 Car with possible explosives found in Gelderland town; link with ATM bombing investigated
09:40 Viktor Orbán threatens new Europe grouping to rival 'weaker' EPP
09:39 Stockpiling for the New Year
09:37 European ministers meet to salvage Iran nuclear deal
09:35 President von der Leyen meets with Andrej Plenkovic, Croatian Prime Minister
09:30 Dutch Listening Practice - Talking About a School Trip in the Netherlands
09:28 [Ticker] Johnson suggests Iran crash was 'unintentional' missile
09:22 In Myanmar Armys Corner, Aung San Suu Kyi Will Defend It in Rohingya Genocide Case
09:16 Trudeau: Canadians deserve answers on plane crash
09:10 Man, 68, arrested for taping jerry can to Leeuwarden train
09:09 Iran denies that it brought down Ukrainian plane with a missile
08:49 Ask Our Astronaut | What's next in space exploration?
08:18 8 teams who saw their seasons ruined by international breaks
08:17 Judiciary Council calls politicians to stop blaming judges for unpleasant rulings
07:45 Iranian missile caused crash of Ukrainian Boeing 737: Officials
07:39 House of Commons passes Brexit bill for UK departure from EU on January 31
07:37 Gay, bisexual young people over twice as likely to be harassed, stalked online
07:01 Canadian PM called PM Rutte about MH17 after Tehran plane crash
06:37 Only let specialized clubs light fireworks, coalition party says
06:27 [Ticker] Swiss afraid of EU wage dumping
06:25 [Ticker] Orban to start new EU movement if kicked out of EPP
06:24 [Ticker] EU blasts Israeli settlements on 'occupied' land
06:15 Croatian PM Optimistic About EU Talks For North Macedonia, Albania
06:10 ABN Amro names PwC's former Dutch chairman as new CEO
06:07 South Mississippi Strong- Mag Holland is an angel devoted to helping others
06:04 MEPs slam UK for violating EU police database
06:03 EU regions: don’t touch cohesion funds for Green Deal
06:02 [Opinion] Europe, Scotland and Brexit - what next?
06:02 [Ticker] Brexit back on EU presidency agenda next week
06:01 [Ticker] President of European Court of Justice lambasts Poland
06:01 [Ticker] Athens asks for US help in east Mediterranean
06:01 [Ticker] Ukraine investigators want to search Iran plane crash site
04:32 How polluted is the air where you live?
04:14 Poisonous caterpillar to strike earlier than usual this year

11:18 Croatian Presidency of EU Council: press conference opening remarks by President von der Leyen
10:50 Girl, 10, dies after falling from asylum center's window
10:43 Compilatie 24H ‘Ontdek je stad’ 2019
09:35 President von der Leyen meets with Andrej Plenkovic, Croatian Prime Minister
09:28 [Ticker] Johnson suggests Iran crash was 'unintentional' missile
07:45 Iranian missile caused crash of Ukrainian Boeing 737: Officials
07:37 Gay, bisexual young people over twice as likely to be harassed, stalked online
06:24 [Ticker] EU blasts Israeli settlements on 'occupied' land
04:14 Poisonous caterpillar to strike earlier than usual this year
14:10 Boy, 10, randomly assaulted by woman on Haarlem street
13:51 2nd EU Clean Air Forum (Bratislava, 28-29 November 2019) - Part 2/3
13:20 Dutch car rolls in Belgium; deceased victims discovered hours later
11:40 More than 9,300 incidents over New Year's: police
11:20 2nd EU Clean Air Forum (Bratislava, 28-29 November 2019) - Part 1/3
10:32 Ontdek Amerfoort #Citytrip
09:40 Viktor Orbán threatens new Europe grouping to rival 'weaker' EPP
09:16 Trudeau: Canadians deserve answers on plane crash
09:10 Man, 68, arrested for taping jerry can to Leeuwarden train
09:09 Iran denies that it brought down Ukrainian plane with a missile
07:01 Canadian PM called PM Rutte about MH17 after Tehran plane crash
06:37 Only let specialized clubs light fireworks, coalition party says
06:15 Croatian PM Optimistic About EU Talks For North Macedonia, Albania
06:01 [Ticker] President of European Court of Justice lambasts Poland
06:01 [Ticker] Ukraine investigators want to search Iran plane crash site
15:50 Home prices in NL to increase 4% this year: ABN Amro
15:43 ‘Artefact detectives’ in Iraq aim to end the theft of their history
15:39 Archaeologists & filmmakers dig up the past of UAE’s Shamash temple
15:30 Moderation
15:05 [Ticker] Sweden halts Iran Air flights after crash
15:01 Middle East crisis: EU's delicate balancing act between Washington and Tehran
15:00 Dutch soldiers in Iraq safe, together, Defense Min. says
14:59 Outrage over reports EU-funding linked to forced labour in Eritrea
14:45 Meeting between the College of Commissioners and the Members of the Parliamentary Groups
14:33 [Ticker] Spanish court: EP must end Catalan MEP immunity
14:01 Dutch cabinet now in favor of new fireworks limits and regulations
14:00 Girls more likely to be harassed, stalked online
13:49 [Ticker] Orban to offer free IVF in anti-immigrant move
13:27 Hate speech has 'no place' in Austria, says Kurz, after Bosnian-born minister receives abuse
13:00 Trump proposes 'NATOME': NATO expanded to MidEast
12:35 Lack of career prospects leaves care workers to quit, says report
12:35 Singer songwriter Jeangu Macrooy is Dutch Eurovision entry- AD
12:35 Defrosted kingfisher rejoins museum collection of dead animals
12:35 Saba again present at Holiday Fair - Saba News
12:35 Politicians should take responsibility for their own laws, says legal chief
12:35 ChristenUnie calls for firework clubs, backs ban on consumer sales
12:35 Good weather will bring clear views of partial lunar eclipse
12:35 'Explosive' growth in Amsterdam hotels despite stricter limits
12:35 More violent incidents at New Year, but fewer people are arrested
12:30 Number of hotels in Amsterdam region skyrocketing: report
12:05 [Ticker] Von der Leyen: 'Influential' EU means talk and trade
12:00 Pope Francis: "US-Iran tensions threaten rebuilding of Iraq"
11:30 Friends of plane crash victims mourn loss
11:21 EC Midday press briefing of 10/01/2020
11:15 Croatian Presidency of EU Council: opening remarks by Croatian Prime Minister and President of EC
11:00 DUTCH RAILROAD CROSSING - Geldermalsen - Voetakkerweg
11:00 DUTCH RAILROAD CROSSING - Prinsenbeek - Spoorstraat
10:26 UK accused of 'behaving like cowboys' over EU database copying
10:26 Men in west London have highest male life expectancy in EU - Life expectancy
10:24 Ursula Von Der Leyen and Croatian PM Andrej Plenkovic talk to the press | LIVE
10:00 Car with possible explosives found in Gelderland town; link with ATM bombing investigated
09:39 Stockpiling for the New Year
09:37 European ministers meet to salvage Iran nuclear deal
09:30 Dutch Listening Practice - Talking About a School Trip in the Netherlands
09:22 In Myanmar Armys Corner, Aung San Suu Kyi Will Defend It in Rohingya Genocide Case
08:49 Ask Our Astronaut | What's next in space exploration?
08:18 8 teams who saw their seasons ruined by international breaks
08:17 Judiciary Council calls politicians to stop blaming judges for unpleasant rulings
07:39 House of Commons passes Brexit bill for UK departure from EU on January 31
06:27 [Ticker] Swiss afraid of EU wage dumping
06:25 [Ticker] Orban to start new EU movement if kicked out of EPP
06:10 ABN Amro names PwC's former Dutch chairman as new CEO
06:07 South Mississippi Strong- Mag Holland is an angel devoted to helping others
06:04 MEPs slam UK for violating EU police database
06:03 EU regions: don’t touch cohesion funds for Green Deal
06:02 [Opinion] Europe, Scotland and Brexit - what next?
06:02 [Ticker] Brexit back on EU presidency agenda next week
06:01 [Ticker] Athens asks for US help in east Mediterranean
04:32 How polluted is the air where you live?

15:50 Home prices in NL to increase 4% this year: ABN Amro
15:43 ‘Artefact detectives’ in Iraq aim to end the theft of their history
15:39 Archaeologists & filmmakers dig up the past of UAE’s Shamash temple
15:30 Moderation
15:05 [Ticker] Sweden halts Iran Air flights after crash
15:01 Middle East crisis: EU's delicate balancing act between Washington and Tehran
15:00 Dutch soldiers in Iraq safe, together, Defense Min. says
14:59 Outrage over reports EU-funding linked to forced labour in Eritrea
14:45 Meeting between the College of Commissioners and the Members of the Parliamentary Groups
14:33 [Ticker] Spanish court: EP must end Catalan MEP immunity
14:10 Boy, 10, randomly assaulted by woman on Haarlem street
14:01 Dutch cabinet now in favor of new fireworks limits and regulations
14:00 Girls more likely to be harassed, stalked online
13:51 2nd EU Clean Air Forum (Bratislava, 28-29 November 2019) - Part 2/3
13:49 [Ticker] Orban to offer free IVF in anti-immigrant move
13:27 Hate speech has 'no place' in Austria, says Kurz, after Bosnian-born minister receives abuse
13:20 Dutch car rolls in Belgium; deceased victims discovered hours later
13:00 Trump proposes 'NATOME': NATO expanded to MidEast
12:35 Lack of career prospects leaves care workers to quit, says report
12:35 Singer songwriter Jeangu Macrooy is Dutch Eurovision entry- AD
12:35 Defrosted kingfisher rejoins museum collection of dead animals
12:35 Saba again present at Holiday Fair - Saba News
12:35 Politicians should take responsibility for their own laws, says legal chief
12:35 ChristenUnie calls for firework clubs, backs ban on consumer sales
12:35 Good weather will bring clear views of partial lunar eclipse
12:35 'Explosive' growth in Amsterdam hotels despite stricter limits
12:35 More violent incidents at New Year, but fewer people are arrested
12:30 Number of hotels in Amsterdam region skyrocketing: report
12:05 [Ticker] Von der Leyen: 'Influential' EU means talk and trade
12:00 Pope Francis: "US-Iran tensions threaten rebuilding of Iraq"
11:40 More than 9,300 incidents over New Year's: police
11:30 Friends of plane crash victims mourn loss
11:21 EC Midday press briefing of 10/01/2020
11:20 2nd EU Clean Air Forum (Bratislava, 28-29 November 2019) - Part 1/3
11:18 Croatian Presidency of EU Council: press conference opening remarks by President von der Leyen
11:15 Croatian Presidency of EU Council: opening remarks by Croatian Prime Minister and President of EC
11:00 DUTCH RAILROAD CROSSING - Geldermalsen - Voetakkerweg
11:00 DUTCH RAILROAD CROSSING - Prinsenbeek - Spoorstraat
10:50 Girl, 10, dies after falling from asylum center's window
10:43 Compilatie 24H ‘Ontdek je stad’ 2019
10:32 Ontdek Amerfoort #Citytrip
10:26 UK accused of 'behaving like cowboys' over EU database copying
10:26 Men in west London have highest male life expectancy in EU - Life expectancy
10:24 Ursula Von Der Leyen and Croatian PM Andrej Plenkovic talk to the press | LIVE
10:00 Car with possible explosives found in Gelderland town; link with ATM bombing investigated
09:40 Viktor Orbán threatens new Europe grouping to rival 'weaker' EPP
09:39 Stockpiling for the New Year
09:37 European ministers meet to salvage Iran nuclear deal
09:35 President von der Leyen meets with Andrej Plenkovic, Croatian Prime Minister
09:30 Dutch Listening Practice - Talking About a School Trip in the Netherlands
09:28 [Ticker] Johnson suggests Iran crash was 'unintentional' missile
09:22 In Myanmar Armys Corner, Aung San Suu Kyi Will Defend It in Rohingya Genocide Case
09:16 Trudeau: Canadians deserve answers on plane crash
09:10 Man, 68, arrested for taping jerry can to Leeuwarden train
09:09 Iran denies that it brought down Ukrainian plane with a missile
08:49 Ask Our Astronaut | What's next in space exploration?
08:18 8 teams who saw their seasons ruined by international breaks
08:17 Judiciary Council calls politicians to stop blaming judges for unpleasant rulings
07:45 Iranian missile caused crash of Ukrainian Boeing 737: Officials
07:39 House of Commons passes Brexit bill for UK departure from EU on January 31
07:37 Gay, bisexual young people over twice as likely to be harassed, stalked online
07:01 Canadian PM called PM Rutte about MH17 after Tehran plane crash
06:37 Only let specialized clubs light fireworks, coalition party says
06:27 [Ticker] Swiss afraid of EU wage dumping
06:25 [Ticker] Orban to start new EU movement if kicked out of EPP
06:24 [Ticker] EU blasts Israeli settlements on 'occupied' land
06:15 Croatian PM Optimistic About EU Talks For North Macedonia, Albania
06:10 ABN Amro names PwC's former Dutch chairman as new CEO
06:07 South Mississippi Strong- Mag Holland is an angel devoted to helping others
06:04 MEPs slam UK for violating EU police database
06:03 EU regions: don’t touch cohesion funds for Green Deal
06:02 [Opinion] Europe, Scotland and Brexit - what next?
06:02 [Ticker] Brexit back on EU presidency agenda next week
06:01 [Ticker] President of European Court of Justice lambasts Poland
06:01 [Ticker] Athens asks for US help in east Mediterranean
06:01 [Ticker] Ukraine investigators want to search Iran plane crash site
04:32 How polluted is the air where you live?
04:14 Poisonous caterpillar to strike earlier than usual this year
I agree and close
x Cookies text