COVID Question

Students asked why Belgium has the worst COVID mortality in the world. Does anybody know?

I already have enough on my plate explaining why the top-ten COVID mortality list looks like the syllabus for my Hispanic Civilization course, so I have no energy to find out on my own.

Clear, brief explanations, if possible, without links. I trust you.

6 thoughts on “COVID Question”

  1. I don’t think anyone knows for certain, but here are a few of the stronger possibilities:
    – Belgium has one of the highest rates in the world of sick/elderly citizens confined to nursing homes/assisted living facilities
    – Belgium has not been testing, but assuming a lot (one article I read said only 16% of their nursing home-related deaths had actually tested positive, so the other 84% from those facilities who died with any COVID-19-like symptoms were automatically assumed to be COVID-19 deaths)
    – Belgium doesn’t really have cohesive government leadership right now, so their approach has been a hodge-podge of inconsistency and mismanagement since the beginning.

    Or, you can go with Belgium’s official take, which is “We’re the only ones actually counting ALL the COVID-19 deaths. Everyone else is missing lots and their counts should be much higher.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “why Belgium has the worst COVID mortality in the world.”

    Off the top of my head…

    it has a very high number of people in care homes (in imperfect correlation but care homes are one of the main sources of fatalities….)

    it goes long periods of time without anything like an effective national government*

    it’s not a ‘real’ nation state (or only a weak one) with very little national cohesion so they can’t pull together when facing adversity – when I was there for an Erasmus visit about 12 years ago it seemed less like a country and more like a Soviet communal apartment whose residents really don’t like each other…

    nb I have no idea if covid is worse in the French speaking areas, the Dutch speaking areas or in Brussels (it’s own thing which seemed barely connected to the rest of the country).

    *this can help it too, with no national government to introduce austerity it recovered from the 2008 crisis more quickly than many other countries

    Liked by 1 person

  3. All other things like nutrition, sanitation etc being equal, there are 3 major factors:

    1) the genetic makeup of the population
    2) the strain of virus
    3) the environment in which the population and virus find themselves in.

    1) Different genes matter when it comes to viruses. For example, the SARSCOV2 virus enters the cell via the ACE2 receptor. Any population group that has more or less ACE2 receptors will be more or less affected. North Asian men (ie Chinese) have something like 6 times more ACE2 receptors in the lung than any other race. Author Y Zhao 2020. Chinese people were particularly susceptible to early strains. Asian people are also the only race that lacks a particularly important anti-viral gene (Delta 32).

    I do not know the exact genetic makeup of the Belgian racial group, but using logic, it seems likely that those Belgians who died or were severely affected share some kind of genetic similarity, which is different to, say, the Swedes (who seem quite resistant).

    2) Different strains do different things. Some strains are much better at moving from one person to the next, with an example being the relatively recent D614G mutant having a better (stiffer) spike protein and so greater infectiousness. Other strain differences include the G variants, half of which are particularly nasty because they can change the sequence of both RNA polymerase and spike protein, which causes problems for the immune system since the invader is constantly changing.

    I do not know the exact set of strains that are prevalent in Belgium, but using logic, it seems reasonable to say that whatever strains are in Belgium are probably predominantly of the more lethal kinds.

    3) The environment matters, since dryness and heat both affect coronaviruses. SARSCOV2 is a particularly robust virus (washing clothing or bandages contaminated with it requires water temperatures of about 60-65 celcius) but will degrade in higher temperatures, and does strongly denature when it dries out. Hence, warm dry climates are less hospitable to the virus, while cool moist climates are more hospitable to the virus.

    Something interesting about SARSCOV2 is that it seems to be one of those viruses that can last a really long time or spread a really long way if it is in that weird “sweet spot” of coolness and moisture, where an environment that is perfectly cool but that little bit too dry destroys it fairly quickly, or where it is warm but perfectly wet destroys it as well, but where a humidity level of a perfect % and temperature within the perfect range makes it a LOT more infectious. An example is the environment in a meatworks, which seems like it is in, or close to, the perfect range.

    I do not know the exact temperature and humidity of Belgium but if I had to guess, I’d say that it is more moist than it is dry, and more cool than it is warm, where for a significant portion of the day, the temperature/humidity etc are close to that perfect meatworks type range, which btw is abotu 12 degrees celcius and 90-95% humidity.

    Other minor factors exist that can even turn into major factors, with an example being social behaviours like kissing when greeting (which probably killed a lot of Italians), diet, social habits/architecture/how close people get on a day to day basis, general hygiene (eg many Asian peoples never ever wear shoes inside, while Europeans don’t always put shoes on only at the door and so contaminate their house with the virus, and even things like the kinds of pets favoured by the group (some animals are susceptible to coronaviruses as well, eg cats, dogs, cows, ferrets, mink (forget the family name of the latter) ie all mammals.

    btw what jmmatlock said above about old age homes is really important since, so far, only a small percentage of the populations of the world have been infected. If Belgium has a lot of age care homes where that was the higher proportion of infections, then the naturally higher lethality in that demographic can make it seem like Belgians are more susceptable when really, it is just that a greater proportion of old people were infected in that country. In Sweden, for example, a huge proportion of the dead were elderly.

    Yeah. Time to shut up now. 🙂


      1. ” cultural heterogeneity (Dutch vs French) in Belgium”

        Those apparently are primarily language differences and some people pass from one category to the other… The Flemish are (as described to me by a Flemish university professor) speak Dutch but are culturally far more French than Dutch… so… a weird mix.
        And, in cities there’s a very heavy Moroccan (and somewhat less obvious Turkish/Kurdish?*) presence.

        *a lot of Turkish citizens in Western Europe are actually Kurds and the two groups don’t seem to mix much (and a large majority of ‘Turkish’ organized crime in Europe is actually carried out by Turkish Kurds).


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