It has less than half of deaths than the countries most affected by the covid-19 pandemic. However, its mortality rate from this disease is the highest in the world.
It is the paradox of Belgium, which as of Tuesday 27 April reported more than 7,200 deaths per covid-19.
And even if that figure is far removed from the more than 55,000 deaths that the United States had confirmed by then or the more than 20,000 in France, the United Kingdom, Italy or Spain, Belgium has the worst death count per 100,000 inhabitants.
According to Johns Hopkins University in the US, 62 covid-19 sufferers die in Belgium for every 100,000 people. The total population of that country is just over 11 million inhabitants.
Map showing the number of infected, killed and recovered worldwide by the new coronavirus
In the U.S., which has reported the highest number of coronavirus deaths in the world, 17 people die per 100,000 inhabitants.
The high Belgian mortality rate is due to the way in which the European country counts the deaths caused by the pathogen.
Belgium counts not only the number of deaths confirmed by coronavirus but also all suspected cases, including all deaths in nursing homes.
This is a different method from that used by many of the countries most hit by the pandemic, which only account for coronavirus deaths in hospitals.
Each country has a different way of counting the fatalities. However, there is a common link: most count those who were tested and tested positive for coronavirus.
The Ministry of Health in Spain, for example, counts only regular coronavirus deaths in hospitals.
Italy, on the other hand, counts those who were tested and tested positive, regardless of whether the leading cause of death was coronavirus or another condition.
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France did so in a similar way, counting those who died in hospitals. On April 2, however, he began to include in his reports the death in nursing homes.
This is how Belgium does it, where its government believes that counting confirmed and also suspicious deaths allows for a better fight against the disease.
Belgium has confirmed and suspicious victims by allowing them to take «immediate action». Image copyright: GETTY IMAGES»When you don’t have the ability to test everyone, it’s very important to also count the likely deaths,» epidemiologist Steven Van Gutch, who is in charge of the government scientific committee against coronavirus in Belgium, explains to BBC Mundo.
«The only difference between us and other countries is that we count cases more extensively, which allows us to take immediate action,» adds Van Gutch.
The specialist explains that, due to this «expansive» system of counting deaths, they were able to detect coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes. «Thanks to our accounting system, we were able to tackle that problem on time,» he says.
On 15 April, official sources revealed that nearly half of coronavirus deaths in Belgium had occurred in nursing homes.
The Prime Minister, Sophie Wilmas, explained in the Belgian Parliament on the same day that «the government decided to be completely transparent in reporting the deaths linked to covid-19, even if that exaggerated the numbers».
Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes defended the method of counting coronavirus deaths in her country. Image copyright: GETTY IMAGESIn embargo, the fact that Belgium placed itself at the top of the global coronavirus mortality rate has been taken with suspicion by other experts.
Marc van Ranst, a Belgian virologist, harshly criticized the government’s death accounting system on a local television show.
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«Almost everyone who dies in nursing homes, which is usually around 100 people a day, is being included in these statistics. I think it’s a little stupid,» Van Ranst said.
Steven van Gutch, who reports the coronavirus figures in Belgium daily, acknowledges that the Belgian method has been criticized, but believes that will be temporary.
«When you don’t have the ability to test everyone, it’s very important to count the likely deaths as well.» Image copyright: GETTY IMAGES»It may seem like we have a very high mortality rate, but in reality our data are comparable to those of France or the United Kingdom, for example. When data from other countries is reviewed and the actual figure is shown, our mortality rates will be matched,» Van Gutch says.
«I understand that some may be alarmed, but we’re just trying to be as transparent and honest as possible. Maybe we’ve overestimated the actual number of deaths, but we think that’s better than not counting them enough,» the scientist adds.
The fact that most countries only count those who tested positive for coronavirus victims could hide a greater real number of deaths.
According to a recent analysis of the paper Financial Times, the total number of deaths per covid-19 worldwide could be 60% higher than published.
The London newspaper reached this conclusion after calculating the number of deaths in March and April this year and comparing it with records from the same period between 2015 and 2019 in several countries.
«Belgium’s intensive care units have not exceeded 58% of their bed capacity.» Image copyright: GETTY IMAGES This is the scenario that the Belgian government wants to avoid.
«If you just count the deaths in a hospital, it’s like closing one eye and just looking at the other,» Van Gutch says.
«In addition, I think the real way to measure how a country is doing is to look at its health response. Yes, our accounting makes us the country with the highest mortality rate, but our intensive care units, even at the peak – around April 12 – did not exceed 58% of their capacity,» the expert says.