Belgium is 'worst-hit country' in the world, but only because they're being honest
The tiny kingdom of Belgium has reported more coronavirus deaths than China and, with almost 66 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, it has the highest per-capita death rate in the world.
For a country of just 11.5 million people, and one where intensive care units were never more than 57 percent full, this may have come as a surprise to people around the world looking at the daily charts comparing nations and their responses.
But according to the authorities in Brussels, the explanation for ending up on top of the heap is simple; no other country is as punctilious and honest in its data reporting.
Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said the government “made the choice of full transparency when communicating deaths linked to COVID-19,” even if it resulted in “numbers that are sometimes overestimated.”
The Belgian position is a lesson to observers to take official data around the world with a pinch of salt. Only this week the UK began adding coronavirus deaths in care homes to its official toll.
Belgium goes further and includes suspected coronavirus deaths in its figures, while many countries will only count a fatality if there has been a positive test.
Belgians applaud to celebrate medical personnel dealing with the coronavirus disease -
Germany, for example, which has attracted praise for its low mortality rate, only counts deaths as coronavirus linked, if there is a confirmed diagnosis.
Care home deaths account for almost half of the deaths announced each day in Belgium and about 95 percent of cases were not formally diagnosed with coronavirus.
Despite pressure from some politicians worried about the impact on foreign investment and tourism in Belgium, the country’s leading scientists stand behind their system.
The National Research and Public Health Institute Sciensano said they were “not concerned in the least” about the international rankings.
Steven Van Gucht, a virologist, has shot to fame as one of the faces of Belgium’s daily press briefing, where the grim figures are released.
“We often get criticism -- oh, you’re making Belgium look bad -- we think it’s the opposite,” Steven Van Gucht, head of the viral disease division at the Sciensano public-health institute, said.
“If you want to compare our numbers with a lot of other countries, you basically have to cut them in half,” he told Bloomberg.
On Friday, Belgium announced that 130 people had died from coronavirus in the last 24 hours, taking the total to 7,703 since the pandemic hit.
46 percent of the total number of victims died in hospital, 53 percent in a nursing home, 0.3 percent at home and 0.4 percent in another place, he said.
The density of the Belgian population is thought to have contributed to the 49,032 infections counted in the country as of Friday.
The country’s divided politics, which meant a caretaker government had to be imbued with emergency powers, was also blamed for a slowed response at the beginning of the crisis.