From the outset of the crisis, Belgium has been severely hit by COVID19. This is due to several factors: we are one of the most densely populated countries in the world, a demographic feature that facilitated the circulation of the virus in the first days after its arrival.
Secondly Belgium, with Brussels as Europe’s capital, is a hub for international traffic. It is no surprise, hence, that according to the first scientific data the introduction of the virus in Belgium cannot be attributed to one single ‘patient zero’, as seems to have been the case in Serbia for instance. More than 100 different contamination clusters, sometimes linked to people returning from their ski holidays in Italy or Austria, have been identified.
Faced with this situation, the Belgian government has rapidly issued unprecedented confinement measures, a couple of days before the Serbian government decided to impose a state of emergency. In Belgium, the corona crisis has resulted in the creation of a new minority government that with broad support in Parliament has obtained special powers to keep the COVID-19 crisis under control. Closure of schools, teleworking, social distancing, masks etc have all been part of this approach. From the 4th of May onwards these measures will gradually be relaxed, to bring back some kind of normality in our society.
In the spirit of our national motto ‘Strenght in Unity,’ we will overcome this crisis, in Belgium, in Europe, and in our partner countries such as Serbia
Our containment policy has proved to be effective in maintaining our public health system,- one of the most performant in the world-, at the service of our citizens. Indeed the increasing number of COVID-patients that had to be admitted to hospitals and in intensive care units has been kept under control, allowing my country to flatten the curve of cases by mid-April and usher in a downward trend with regard to contaminations as well as in a number of victims to be deplored.
Unfortunately, the number of deaths in Belgium has been very high, a consequence of the fact that the virus has been able to penetrate in a lot of nursing homes, thereby inflicting a high death toll to the most vulnerable elderly population.
The fact that Belgium, with more than 7000 corona-victims, is now considered to be one of the most affected countries in the world, in terms of deaths per capita, can be entirely attributed to this phenomenon, given the fact that more than half of our victims (54%) die in these homes and not in hospitals, but also to the specific, very transparent methodology Belgium has used hitherto to report its Corona-deaths.
Indeed Belgium, contrary to most other countries, has not only counted the COVID-19 casualties in its hospitals, but also those in the nursery homes, even if there wasn’t a confirmed infection. This may have led to some over-reporting, but has helped at the same time to clearly identify the problem areas in the nursing homes. Through better tracking, appropriate safeguard measures could be taken, including massive testing in nursing homes.
If we merely look at the so-called excess mortality figures, i.e the number of (corona-related) deaths compared to ‘normal’ figures in previous years, Belgium can be ranked among the median countries, with a 25% excess mortality rate. In other words, a scientifically justified comparison with other countries will only be valid once we are able to compare similar, comprehensive figures, which is not the case yet. As of now, you basically have to cut our numbers in half, if you want to compare with other countries.
Eventually, the success of the management of this crisis will not exclusively be determined by the number of deaths, but by the question of whether or not the necessary treatments were available when needed.
In the economic field, the Belgian institutional and social setup has made it possible to cater for a social ‘airbag’ to absorb the shock for many companies: indeed the unique Belgian system of so-called ‘technical unemployment’ allows companies to keep their workforce, whilst the government intervenes for up to 70% in their salaries.
In the meantime, across the different competent authorities, a first emergency support package of 10 MIA € has been launched, to help our companies to get through the coming months until economic life picks up again.
I am convinced that, in the spirit of our national motto ‘Strenght in Unity’, as it is enshrined in our national coat of arms, we will overcome this crisis, in Belgium, in Europe, and in our partner countries such as Serbia.
Ambassador Koenraad ADAM
Ambasador Belgije Adam Kunrad