Belgium becomes second European country to record highest annual mortality rate since First World War

Rebecca Speare-Cole
·3 min read
Passers-by, wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, walk along a commercial area during a rainy autumn day in Brussels, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. This autumn, Belgium was the European country with the highest number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 cases at some point but the situation has been gradually improving over the past seven days.(AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Passers-by, wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, walk along a commercial area during a rainy autumn day in Brussels (AP)

Belgium recorded its highest annual mortality rate last year since the Spanish flu and the end of the First World War in 1918, the country’s government has revealed.

It comes after England and Wales also saw more deaths in 2020 than any other year since the end of the First World War, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

England and Wales reported a total of more than 604,000 deaths last year as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, amounting to roughly 73,000 more than the five-year average, according to senior statistician Nick Stripe.

Meanwhile, Belgium has one of the world’s highest COVID-19 mortality rates per capita, with 20,122 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

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Belgian health ministry spokesman Yves Van Laethem, who revealed on Tuesday that the country saw more deaths in 2020 than any year since 1918, said: “The situation remains fragile, hesitant.

“There could be an upsurge in the coming weeks, although a reverse evolution cannot be ruled out either."

The latest data from the Sciensano health institute shows that the total number of positive COVID-19 tests reached 665,220 on Monday, with 2,000 new daily cases detected on average in the last seven days.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - JANUARY 6: People walk at a public area amid coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic in Brussels, Belgium on January 6, 2021. The curfew restriction applied within the scope of combating the pandemic in the country is applied between 22.00 and 06.00 as people can only go out to work or health institutions during these hours. (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
People walk at a public area amid the coronavirus pandemic in Brussels. (Getty)

Van Laethem said: "This increase affects all age groups globally but is more pronounced in 10-year-olds, young adults and – a little more worryingly because they probably did not go on vacation – in people over the age of 90.”

The federal government will meet on 22 January to review the lockdown measures. Belgium's southern Wallonia region has already decided to extend its nightly curfew until 15 February.

The small country of only 11 million has been hit badly by the virus as one of Europe’s most densely populated countries.

It is home to the headquarters of the EU and NATO so the country is a crossroad of cultures that sees a huge flow of people.

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Belgium has also had a confusing and unco-ordinated localised lockdown response to rising COVID-19 cases during the pandemic.

The three main regions, Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels brought in different rules at different times – even under national lockdowns.

But Belgium is not the only European country that is struggling to bring the latest wave of COVID under control.

Countries have been reintroducing restrictions amid fears the new variant found in the UK is spreading across the continent.

Germany introduced a national lockdown last week in a bid to stop the spread of the virus.

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The country reached 40,000 deaths on Sunday with chancellor Angela Merkel warning that the worst is yet to come if the country sits back and waits for the vaccinations to take effect.

More than 80% of intensive care unit beds in the country are occupied and medical personnel are working at their maximum capacity.

France also introduced a 12-hour curfew for 25 regions from 6pm to 6am that comes into force on Tuesday.

The country has repeatedly recorded more than 20,000 new cases of COVID-19 after loosening travel restrictions over the holiday.

The figure is far higher than the government’s target of 5,000 cases per day in order to open up the hospitality sector.

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