Coronavirus: Belgium's excess mortality is 80%

Coronavirus: Belgium's excess mortality is 80%
Credit: Belga

Belgium's excess mortality figures show that the new coronavirus (Covid-19) has a much bigger impact than flu seasons or heat waves in recent years, with about 80% more deaths.

On Thursday, 230 new deaths linked to the coronavirus were reported in Belgium, bringing the total number of deaths to 6,490 since the beginning of the pandemic. Of the total number, 46% occurred in hospitals, and were infections confirmed by a coronavirus test.

53% of deaths occurred in residential care centres, of which 5% were infections confirmed by a test, the other 95% were suspected cases, according to the Federal Public Health Service.

Belgium's system of counting and reporting deaths linked to the coronavirus, which also includes suspected deaths in residential care centres, has been criticised by experts, with virologist Marc Van Ranst calling it "dumb," and politicians worried about the consequences for the tourism sector.

"Usually, around this period, we expect about 300 deaths per day as a baseline. If that number is significantly higher than 300, we speak of excess mortality," said inter-federal Covid-19 spokesperson Steven Van Gucht.

Credit: Sciensano

"From 16 March, the total number of deaths rose rapidly, and we can speak of a significant excess mortality in Belgium," he said, adding that the figures show that Belgium's way of reporting reflects the impact of the epidemic fairly accurately.

"We can see this, because the deaths that we report correspond well with the excess mortality that we also see in the population as a whole," Van Gucht added. This illustrates that Belgium is not overestimating its number of coronavirus deaths, but that many other countries are likely underestimating theirs, which was also shown by an analysis by The New York Times.

"If we would only take into account the confirmed cases, we would greatly underestimate the number of deaths," he said, adding that the excess mortality is much greater than we have seen in previous years, even reaching up to 169% in some Flemish cities.

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"It is greater than during heat waves, or previous flu seasons. The peak of the total number of deaths was somewhere around 10 April 2020, with 637 deaths per day," Van Gucht said. "The previous peak was in 2018, during a very severe flu season, with 486 deaths per day," he added.

The excess mortality measured in Belgium in the first week of April was about 80%, which means 80% more deaths than expected occurred. "This is comparable to the excess mortality that we see in most of our neighbouring countries, and it is certainly not higher," he added.

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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