Mortality rate in Belgium almost back to normal levels in 2021

Mortality rate in Belgium almost back to normal levels in 2021
Credit: Belga

More people died in 2021 than before the pandemic, however, this number was much lower in comparison with the first coronavirus year in 2020, most likely as a result of the rollout of coronavirus vaccines.

In the last three years before the pandemic hit Belgium, between 108,000 and 110,000 people died every year. In 2020, this figure increased to more than 124,000. However, mortality in the country once again dropped to expected levels in 2021, when some 112,000 people died, according to new mortality figures from Statbel, the Belgian statistics office.

"The lower mortality figures this year can of course be attributed to the vaccinations," Geert Molenberghs, a biostatistician at UHasselt and KULeuven, told Radio 1.

In 2021, fewer people died in the 85+ age group (almost the same number of people as in 2019), however, more people aged 65-74 died in 2021 than in pre-coronavirus years.

The cumulative number of deaths (all causes) in Belgium in 2021 compared to 2019 and 2021. Credit: Statbel.

In 2020, the number of deaths reached particularly high levels as a result of the coronavirus waves, in April, August and November. In comparison, the graph for 2021 shows that the mortality level remained largely stable, even in March and November to December, when the number of coronavirus infections increased.

Excess mortality up in EU

Last year, excess mortality, referring to the number of deaths from all causes during a crisis above and beyond what is expected under 'normal' conditions, remained relatively limited in Belgium, with 16.3% more deaths compared to the same period before the pandemic.

Molenberghs said it was difficult to predict what the mortality figures will be at the end of this year.

"Omicron appears to be a lot less pathogenic than the Delta variant, so we don't expect too much excess mortality. If we end up in a quiet period after this wave, we should be fine. But of course, nobody can predict how autumn will go. We hope it will remain calm," he said.

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Across Europe, the deaths rose by 27% in November 2021 compared to the same period before the health crisis, according to the latest figures from the statistical office Eurostat.

The highest excess mortality was recorded in Bulgaria (+88%), which has the lowest vaccination rate in the European Union, followed by Romania (+84%).

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in Europe in March 2020, the EU experienced three peaks in excess mortality. In April 2020, statistics showed 25% more deaths than the average for April 2016 to 2019. In November 2020, the excess mortality reached 40% more, and then 21% in April 2021. By November, it had risen to 27%.

In July this year, the average excess mortality rate reached an 18-month low of 5.6%, but it has gradually increased since then.

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