Why the Belgian corona figures are so bad

Why the Belgian corona figures are so bad
Why the Belgian corona figures are so bad

‘Liège threatens to become the new Bergamo.’ The headline of an article in the Flemish newspaper The standard leave little doubt about it: the Walloon region is not doing well. The hospitals are full, the province has passed its April corona peak, and with almost 3,600 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the last two weeks, Liège is currently the worst in all of Europe.

It may not be long before the whole of Belgium is in such bad shape. Germany and the Netherlands presented little rosy figures on Thursday: the Netherlands reported more than nine thousand new infections, Germany had over 10,000 infections for the first time in a day. But the Belgian counts take the cake. With a much smaller population, the country is already dealing with an average of 10,000 infections per day in the last week. Just like in the spring, the country tops the European corona rankings, just below number one Czech Republic.

Why things are going so badly is “not a simple question”, says Flanders’ most famous virologist Marc Van Ranst. Figures like this are not fully representative of the seriousness of the situation, he explains over the phone: “Much more testing is done in Belgium than in some other countries. One in three Belgians has already been tested, while that is one in six in the Netherlands, for example. The capacity is higher and testing is done faster. ” For example, in Belgium you do not necessarily have to have a prescription from the doctor, and until recently no symptoms. “Then it is logical that the number of infections counted is also higher.”

Just like earlier this year, when Belgium had relatively the most deaths in the world because it included not only confirmed but also suspected corona deaths, the method of counting therefore produces a somewhat distorted picture. The situation is nevertheless very worrying, Van Ranst clarifies. On the European list of the number of deaths in the last fourteen days, Belgium is still in fifth place.

Also read: Why Belgium has so many corona deaths

The country, like the Netherlands, is a “very densely populated country with a small, open economy, and it is centrally located,” explains Van Ranst. It makes the transit country Belgium vulnerable and that the virus, “unlike on an island, is difficult to control”.

And then there is the complex political situation. For almost any major entanglement or relaxation, all governments must agree in a Consultative Committee. Moreover, until recently Belgium did not have a fully-fledged federal government, and thanks to its many levels of government, the country has nine ministers responsible for health. “That makes decision-making difficult,” sums up the virologist from the Catholic University of Leuven euphemistically.

In recent months, decisions have alternated at a rapid pace, without the underlying logic always being communicated. Every few weeks, for example, the so-called ‘contact bubble’ was shifted and just last month, when the infections were already increasing sharply due to returning travelers and the start of the academic year, the government decided to relax. It caused a lack of clarity and open quarrels between politicians and between scientists who argued for stricter and more flexible measures, while the motivation of many citizens to obey the rules decreased.

Although Belgium is now out of its government crisis and has recruited a corona commissioner to combat fragmentation, both developments are coming very late. “Now the virus is already widespread and we are at a point where we may well exceed the first wave,” Van Ranst fears. In the meantime, governments have still not agreed on a coronabarometer to indicate the different levels of alarm, and the contact investigation is also not working properly.

On Thursday evening, the Consultation Committee will meet early, instead of on Friday, to discuss tightening up measures. In recent days, a number of Belgian virologists have called for a new lockdown, but that is not the preference of the new Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. Three weeks ago he said during his government statement: “Our country, our economy, our companies, they cannot handle another general lockdown.”

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