Coronavirus: Belgium tops the world in number of deaths in relation to population
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Coronavirus: Belgium tops the world in number of deaths in relation to population

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The fatality rate in Belgium overall and in retirement homes continues to be high.

Today, the public health authority reported 230 deaths. Yesterday, the number was 290. That brings the total number of deaths to 5,683 since the outbreak of the coronavirus.

More than half of them have been reported from retirement homes. Of the total deaths that occurred in the homes, 4% were cases confirmed by a coronavirus test and 96% were suspected ones.

Graph: Number of reported mortalities in BelgiumSource: Sciensano. The figures for the two last days have not yet been consolidated.

The Belgian way of reporting differs from other countries where only cases confirmed by a test are included in the statistics. However, since the authorities on 10 April started a program of testing of all residents and staff in the retirement homes, the picture about the spread of the coronavirus in the homes has started to be clearing.

The latest figures from the Belgian public health authority show that 19 % of the residents and 12 % of the staff were tested positive. On Thursday (16 April), epidemiologist Brecht Devleesschauwer from Sciensano confirmed that the excess mortality in retirement homes has been significantly increasing since mid-March and exceed the levels during the 2018 influenza season.

In fact, Sciensano writes in its daily reports that the suspected cases that were not tested for COVID-19 met the clinical criteria according to a physician.

While a majority of the confirmed cases who passed away in the hospitals are retired people, there is still no figures on how many of them were patients from retirement homes. Asked by The Brussels Times about a breakdown of the figures, Sciensano replied that the figures have not been published.

“Sciensano regularly receive requests for additional data or breakdowns. We therefore continuously evaluate the usefulness of the current open datasets, and discuss proposals to add further details. In each case, it depends on the availability and validity of additional data/breakdowns, as well as on the workload that this would entail,” Sciensano explained.

The Belgian government has admitted that not enough was done to protect the retirement homes but blames it on the lack of tests and protective equipment. A similar discussion has aroused in Sweden where also the retirement homes have been hit by the virus but where the death rate is much lower.

In Sweden, the failure was identified in the lack of supervision of municipal and private retirement homes that often rely on temporary staff without any training in protecting themselves and the residents against the virus. The public health authority seemed rather complacent but after complaints an inspection has been launched.

A comparison with other countries might be misleading because of differences in age structure and different reporting procedures but it does not prevent the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center from publishing daily updates of the mortality rate. Until more clarity has been reached about the situation in Belgium, a country with 11,5 million inhabitants, the graph is alarming.

Source: John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center (19 April)

M. Apelblat
The Brussels Times