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Belgium passes the 20,000 dead threshold

The statistical method used partly explains this impressive macabre record.

The statistical method used partly explains this impressive macabre record.

From our correspondent, Max Helleff (Brussels) – Belgium crossed the threshold of 20,000 deaths attributed to the coronavirus on Sunday. The Sciensano Institute of Public Health has counted exactly 20,038 people who have died from sars-cov2 infection. As of Monday morning, that figure was 20,078 (+40).

20,000 dead is not trivial. And yet no daily newspaper devoted its Monday cover to this information which, less than ten months ago, would have been a nightmare.

As was done for the ten thousandth death, the daily newspapers of the Sudpresse group nevertheless returned to see the caregivers. “The most horrifying thing about that number,” one nurse said, “is knowing that these men and women died alone. They were only able to say goodbye to their families, were given nothing but words from strangers as their final comfort, and only had as their final images health workers hidden by protective gear. As a caregiver, this is the hardest part. ” This testimony ends with a plea: “We do not want to experience a third wave and not quickly reach 30,000 deaths.”

In the first months of the pandemic, Belgium paid a heavy price for its lack of preparation. Underfunded and under-equipped, its health system has been largely failing. It should also be remembered that the authorities have long included in the statistics the deaths occurring in nursing homes, without further details. At a time when nursing homes were locked away, thousands of bodies passed from bed to grave without an autopsy being performed. It was necessary to avoid increasing the risk of contagion. As a result, unlike other countries, the toll of the pandemic is unlikely to be underestimated. In Flanders, one in two deaths has been recorded among residents of retirement homes.

The hope of the vaccine

Finally, the declaration of cases of death by covid is mandatory here, unlike other countries, such as the Netherlands. This partly explains why the death rate per 100,000 population has long remained the highest internationally, with 174.08 deaths on average. The flat country has, however, fallen to second place, behind San Marino (57 deaths for 33,419 inhabitants).

“Belgium, due to its small size and high population density, has several characteristics conducive to the strong circulation of the virus,” recalls Yves Coppieters (ULB). For this infectious disease specialist, however, the vaccine should alleviate the macabre toll: ten fewer deaths per 100,000 vaccinations, provided it covers people at risk and those over 85 years old.

Scientists agree that it is more correct to study excess mortality rather than the overall numbers of the epidemic. As such, Belgium is no longer in the phase of “significant excess mortality”, which indicates a rate clearly higher than the average of the last five years. This is true nationally. But if we look at the Regions separately, we can see that Flanders still had four days of excess mortality last December, unlike Brussels and Wallonia.

For politicians and scientists alike, however, the urgency lies elsewhere. The number of infections has started to rise again in recent days. The hunt for the variant from the United Kingdom has been launched. But we already know that 40% of Belgians who returned from the red zone did not comply with the mandatory quarantine.


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