The picture shows a Covid-19 patient who was brought to Cologne by helicopter from the CHU hospital in Liège.
ERIC LALMAND | AFP | Getty Images
LONDON – The coronavirus pandemic hits Belgium particularly hard as the intensive care units in Brussels are at full capacity.
Belgium, where the main EU institutions are located, has some of the highest daily Covid-19 infections in Europe. The numbers are related to the population twice as much as France and seven times more than Germany in the past two weeks, data from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control shows.
In late October, the country’s health minister, Frank Vandenbroucke, was appointed, described the situation as like one “Tsunami” of infections in which the authorities “are no longer in control”.
Compared to other European countries, this is a “huge failure,” Pieter Cleppe, a member of the Property Rights Alliance and a resident of Belgium, told CNBC over the phone.
One of the reasons for the crisis is the conflict between regional and federal leaders. Belgium has a unique configuration, divided into three municipalities (French, German and Flemish) and three regions (the Brussels-Capital Region and the Flemish and Walloon Region). For example, they share different political portfolios, while the municipalities oversee education and the regions have a say in economic affairs.
During the health crisis, politicians in the Flemish-speaking part and their colleagues in the French-speaking regions argued over the right balance between containing the virus and avoiding further economic problems.
Alexander de Croo, who was appointed Prime Minister in late September, has tried to bring the nation together in the fight against Covid-19. He has asked “a team of 11 million Belgians” – the country’s population – to “jointly” defeat the pandemic.
The Chaussée d’Ixelles, a shopping street in Brussels, is almost empty on November 3, 2020.
Thierry Monasse | Getty Images News | Getty Images
De Croo announced a second nationwide lockdown earlier this week, which should last at least until mid-December. On Wednesday he said “tough measures” will remain in place until a vaccine is available, the Brussels Times reported.
However, Belgium’s plight goes beyond this division.
Simon Dellicour, bio-engineer and research fellow at Universite Libre de Bruxelles, said the recent surge in cases was due to “relatively high population densities”, increased testing capacity and a rapid relaxation of the rules at the end of summer.
Compared to neighbors like France and Germany, Belgium has a much higher number of people per square kilometer, which poses challenges in introducing social distancing.
“At the end of the summer,” he said, “we reopened kindergartens, elementary schools and high schools at the same time, and people were regularly going back to work.”
“All in all, we’ve made the situation worse and worse,” added Dellicour.
During the first fall wave in spring, the country also imposed one of the strictest barriers in Europe, where the police monitored non-essential trips. This second wave causes a much higher number of reported daily cases than in March and April. However, the number of deaths per day is lower than it was in the spring, at the height of the first wave, data from John Hopkins University shows.
Belgium, unlike other European countries, also counts deaths in any case that a doctor suspects it may be a coronavirus – which can bloat the number and make it look worse than some neighbors. For example, the UK would only count deaths that occurred after 28 days of testing positive.
For the past 14 days, the cumulative number of Covid-19 deaths in Belgium was the second highest in Europe, surpassed only by the Czech Republic.
The health emergency is so acute that it is reported that some seriously ill Covid 19 patients have been transferred to Germany. Brussels reached its intensive care capacity two days ago.
Nationwide, 7,405 Covid patients were in hospital on Wednesday; 1,412 of them in the intensive care unit, Reported RTBF on Thursday. The maximum number of beds available in the intensive care unit is 2,000, the television station also reported.