An excess in deaths in 2019 was observed during the three summer periods when the high heat plan was activated, Sciensano, the Belgian Institute of Health announced.
This surplus in deaths occurred during or just after the hottest days, with a particular high in the second half of July.
The excess mainly occurred on days of plus 30° C temperatures.
During and after the first heatwave (21 June to 2 July ), there was a moderate excess in deaths (4% or 128 deaths in addition to expected deaths) in all age groups of the population, but mainly in the 65-84 group.
In Flanders, the number of additional deaths was less than that of Wallonia and Brussels, probably because the temperatures were lower during this period in the north of the country Sciensano researcher Nathalie Bossuyt explained.
The second heatwave (19-27 July), saw an excess in mortality in all age categories in Belgium (+17% or 400 deaths), but especially in the over 85 groups. 24 to 26 July included, in particular, three consecutive peaks in the number of additional deaths (81 additional deaths on 24 July, 110 on 25 July, 136 on 26 July.
"During the second heatwave, the excess was very high mainly in Brussels (up by almost 35%). A possible explanation could be the urban heat island effect. It can indeed be much warmer in cities than in adjacent areas… the wind is blocked, and heat accumulates in the concrete, asphalt and stone. Night temperatures can also remain higher, whereas nights are cooler in the country," Bossuyt explained.
Finally, during the third heatwave (23 to 29 August) an obvious excess in mortality was again recorded in Belgium (+ 10% or 188 deaths), mainly in the plus 65 groups. This "third heat wave was characterized by excess mortality in Flanders and Wallonia, but not in Brussels," Bossuyt said.
However, it is still too early to come to conclusions on the total number of deaths during the summer of 2019, Sciensano said. Furthermore, the Belgian Institute of Health does not yet know the specific causes of the deaths and "it is not possible, therefore, to determine what were the exact causes of this excessive mortality" they said.
The Brussels Times