In the international press the way that Belgium compiles its death rate – including suspected cases and cases in care homes - has raised an eyebrow or two and led to headlines like “Champion of Coronavirus” and “Belgian Corona Riddle”.
Belgian virologists urge caution when comparing figures: Belgium is the only country to include deaths in care homes for the elderly in the figure released daily. Prof Steven Van Gucht: “What we are doing is very honest, hypercorrect and above all comprehensive.”
Germany’s Der Spiegel points to Belgium as the crossroads of Europe with (formerly) fast connections to Cologne, Paris, Amsterdam and London. Population density and pollution may have played a role too.
Britain’s The Sun harks back to the Great War referring to the country as “Tiny Belgium”. Death figures in England per head of population are half those in Belgium, but quickly adds that countries like the UK still need to add deaths outside hospital. “The real corona death figures in Europe are far from complete” the red top says.
Britain’s The Daily Mail suggests the situation in other countries may be very similar to those in Belgium, but that the figures are still lacking. The Mail compares the higher death figures in Belgium to those in the Netherlands but adds the Dutch are hardly testing in care homes.
French TV France3 and the daily Le Parisien attribute Belgium’s number one spot to the way deaths are registered here and acknowledge the Belgian figure may be an overestimate. “It’s nearly as if the Belgians are being too honest” writes the magazine Le Point.
The Modern Tokyo Times, an online publication, speaks of Belgium’s extensive counting method and suggests that in the future other countries may adopt it too. Belgium is seen as the dark European mirror that other countries will see when there is a more extensive counting of deaths. “Belgium is hit hardest of all because it isn’t ignoring deaths outside hospital” says this outlet.
UK microbiologist Andrew Preston tells the US magazine Newsweek that he expects many studies will now concentrate on the best way to count deaths. In the same publication Dr Peter Drobac urges caution in comparing national figures but acknowledges Belgium has been hit hard.