Belgian virologist Steven van Gucht has spoken out after criticism of Belgium’s management of the coronavirus pandemic appeared in press abroad.
Speaking in several foreign interviews, van Gucht has defended the approach of the country after US President Donald Trump pointed to Belgium’s mortality rate as being the highest in the world.
“Belgium has the best surveillance system in the world. We count much better than other countries,” van Gucht told Belga News Agency on Friday.
In Belgium, the total number of deaths due to the new coronavirus (Covid-19) includes suspected cases, van Gucht stressed. Of the 6,679 deaths currently being counted, 46% are confirmed cases. That’s fewer than the 4,177 deaths that Johns Hopkins University reported for the Netherlands, a country relatively comparable to Belgium in terms of the population’s density and mobility, according to van Gucht.
On the other hand, “Sweden, for example, has implemented less strict rules. It’s true that they have fewer deaths than us, but they have more than their neighbours,” van Gucht said. “The country is larger, with a less dense population. People can isolate themselves more easily.”
The initial infection and the way the virus is spread throughout the country are also important factors. “The virus affects Belgium in a relatively homogenous way,” he said, whereas the Netherlands has more cases in the southeastern part of the country and most of the deaths in the US occur in New York. Comparisons should be made with New York and not the United States as a whole, according to van Gucht.
In terms of screening, “we are not frontrunners, but we test more than in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, for example. Belgium has a large screening capacity,” he said.
“We also have one of the best health systems,” he added. “Even at the peak, intensive care units were at 58% capacity. Everyone was able to receive the care they needed, which was not the case in all countries. I think that’s the basis on which management should be evaluated.”
Including the 6,679 fatalities, Belgium counted 44,293 coronavirus cases as of Friday.
The Brussels Times