Belgium's response to the coronavirus crisis has been deemed the Bottom of the class, according to a new international study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).
The damning proclamation by the EIU ranks Belgium as doing the worst out of 21 OECD members, based on an assessment of three “quality of response” criteria (number of tests, provision of non-Covid-19 healthcare and the number of above-average excess deaths).
With a score of 2.11 out of a possible 4, Belgium ranked worse than Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, who all ranked next worst with a score of 2.22.
The study also places Belgium a full point behind the 'good' results of the United States (3.11) - which ranked higher due to the high number of deaths being attributed to large population size and prevalence of existing risk factors such as obesity and an ageing population, making the country rank "better than that of most of the countries that shared a similar risk profile."
While the low score "is partly understandable in the case of Italy and Spain" as they were the first hit in Europe, the study is less forgiving on the UK and Belgium.
According to the study, Belgium - which received the highest possible score for its testing capacity - ranked the lowest score for its death rate, which currently sits at over 9,660 people, making it the country with the highest death rate per capita in the world.
Critics of the report have been quick to point out, however, that while Belgium may have ranked the worst due to a high death count, it was also one of the few countries counting untested deaths in care homes as coronavirus deaths, even if it was only suspected to be the case.
Speaking in April, Emmanuel André of the government’s coronavirus advisory team had already addressed the methodology of Belgium's process. “40% of the deaths reported so far concern nursing homes or residential care centres and it concerns, mostly, people who did not have access to a lab test but who are treated as suspected coronavirus deaths,” André explained.
Echoing André, Joris Moonens, spokesperson for the Flemish Agency for Care and Health said that Flanders’ confirmed nursing home death count included both tested and untested patients.
“In nursing homes, a majority of people today are not being tested for Covid-19, so the death count also includes persons who died with the symptoms,” he told The Brussels Times.
At the other end of the spectrum, Australia, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Israel, New Zealand and Norway registered the highest scores. New Zealand ranked the highest with a score of 3.67.
"Overall, these countries appear to have succeeded in containing the pandemic because they reacted early and swiftly. Not all of them introduced stringent lockdowns, but all implemented aggressive testing and tracing programmes," the report explains.
The Brussels Times