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Belgium boasts coronavirus death count accuracy

Credit: Belga

Belgium’s mortality rate because of the new coronavirus (Covid-19) is as close as possible to reality, the Federal Public Health Service explained during the press conference on Friday.

“Belgium has a high mortality rate, we were clearly very badly hit by the virus, from the beginning of March. We are a densely populated country, we have an ageing population, this is clearly reflected in the figures,” said virologist and inter-federal Covid-19 spokesperson Steven Van Gucht during a press conference.

However, Belgium’s high mortality rate has been discussed extensively in April, as experts explained that Belgium also counted suspected cases, while other countries did not.

Belgian politicians feared that this would result in tourists staying away out of fear when the borders reopened, and virologist Marc Van Ranst called the system “dumb.” However, the national health institute Sciensano defended this counting system, and stated it other countries were very likely underestimating their mortality rate, which was also shown by an analysis by The New York Times.

“This is the approach recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control,” said professor Yves Van Laethem during the press conference, adding that the organisation even congratulated Belgium this week for choosing this approach.

The Crisis Centre illustrated this with a graph, published by The Economist, that shows that “many other countries clearly underestimated the number of deaths due to covid-19,” according to Van Gucht.

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“When we look at the excess mortality figures, we see that they have also increased considerably in many other countries, and that the total number of deaths is often higher than it is in Belgium,” Van Gucht said, pointing to the Netherlands, France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.

“Very often, the number of officially reported coronavirus deaths in those countries is much lower than the excess mortality,” he said, adding that this is not the case in Belgium.

“We count quite accurately, and the excess mortality matches the number of reported coronavirus deaths for almost 100%,” Van Gucht said. “The excess mortality in the Netherlands is almost twice as high as its number of reported deaths due to the coronavirus,” he added.

In 2017, Belgium recorded an excess mortality of 3,284 people during the flu season in winter. In 2018, 3,093 extra deaths occurred during the same period, and in 2019, there was no excess mortality during the winter.

“Meanwhile, the coronavirus has caused almost 9,000 extra deaths in Belgium, which is much higher than the number we have recorded during previous flu seasons,” said Van Gucht. “One of the worst flu seasons since 2001 was the winter of 2015, when we recorded 4,012 extra deaths,” he added.

At the moment, this number is almost 2.2 times higher than the worst flu season in recent times. “And this despite the lockdown,” said Van Gucht. “It is clear that if we had not implemented that lockdown, the consequences would have been much worse, and the excess mortality would have been much higher,” he added.

On Friday, Belgium recorded 8,959 deaths since the start of the epidemic, and a total of 54,644 confirmed cases. The total reflects all people in Belgium who have been infected, and includes confirmed active cases as well as patients who have since recovered, or died from the consequences of the virus.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times