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|2020 coronavirus pandemic in Belgium|
Map of Belgium and its provinces with the spread of COVID-19 as of 1 April 2020
Confirmed cases per 100.000 inhabitants by province (as of 2 April 2020)
|First outbreak||Wuhan, Hubei, China|
|Arrival date||4 February 2020|
(1 month, 4 weeks and 2 days ago)
|Confirmed cases||15,348[nb 1] (=133 cases per 100,000 head of population)|
|1,011 (=88 deaths per 1,000,000 head of population)|
The 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic was confirmed to have spread from the People's Republic of China to Belgium on 4 February 2020, when its first COVID-19 case was confirmed in Brussels. The pandemic only started on 1 March, when many skiers who had spent the school holiday around carnival in the North of Italy were allowed to return to work or school. All the latest confirmed cases, deaths and recoveries on the coronavirus outbreak in Belgium can be found on the website of Sciensano.
Efforts to address the coronavirus outbreak in Belgium have to be managed by the nine federal and regional health ministers, Maggie De Block (Open VLD, federal government), Wouter Beke (CD&V, Flemish Community), Christine Morreale (PS, French Community), Antonios Antoniadis (SP, German-speaking Community), Bénédicte Linard (Ecolo, French Community), Valérie Glatigny (MR, French Community), Alain Maron (Ecolo, Brussels), Elke Van den Brandt (Groen, Brussels) and Barbara Trachte (Ecolo, Brussels). with the support of:
Unlike most neighbouring countries (the Netherlands, France, Germany and the UK), the Belgian authorities were initially not willing to provide information or statistics on where the cases are located, beyond statistics for each region: Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia. Sciensano started to publish statistics per province from 18 March onwards and per municipality from 26 March onwards.
On 29 January, Belgium issued a travel notice advising against non-essential flights to China, Hong Kong excluded, with some travel companies cancelling all flights to China. Chinese New Year celebrations were cancelled at the University of Leuven.
On 30 January the domain name "info-coronavirus.be" was registered by the authorities.
Towards the end of January it became clear that Belgium had an insufficient stock of respirators and surgical masks but Jan Eyckmans of the Federal Public Service Health department claimed the Belgian hospitals had sufficient stock. On 8 March the federal minister of public health Maggie De Block stated she had a solution for the shortage of masks but was unwilling to disclose the potential vendor and the number of masks involved. On 15 March, it became clear that the masks had not been delivered on time, and the following day De Block announced that her department's order of 5 million masks might have involved fraud. On 16 March, hospitals such as the UZ Leuven called for the public to bring in FFP2 , FFP3 respirators or surgical masks and the next day De Standaard reported that De Block had blundered by ordering all 5 million masks from a single company (M.O.S.S.A. vof), a consultancy firm that had no track record in the medical field and was owned by Mahmut Öz, a Belgo-Turkish politician from her own political affiliation. On 19 March, a shipment of 100.000 FFP2 respirators arrived. On 20 March, a shipment from China of 5 million masks arrived at the airport of Bierset, but these were surgical masks and not the type of respirators required to protect the medical staff. Hospitals such as the Centre Hospitalier Interrégional Edith Cavell (CHIREC) reported that they were in dire need of protective masks. The Belgian textile sector was unable to produce mouth masks at short notice to make up for the shortage. Minister Philippe De Backer was charged with coordinating the efforts of the authorities to supply masks and respirators. On 25 March, PVDA-member of parliament Sofie Merckx complained that since 2009 the various governments had not renewed the strategic reserves of mouth masks due to cost cutting measures in the health care system. Upon reaching their expiration date in 2018, minister of health Maggie De Block decided to destroy and not replace 6 million face masks. 
On 1 February, Belgian nationals living in Hubei were repatriated on a series of evacuation flights arriving at Melsbroek Military Airport close to Brussels, where they were quarantined and examined in a military hospital. All people with SARS-CoV-2 were transferred to the Military Hospital of Neder-over-Heembeek where they underwent a 14-day quarantine and got tested for infection with the virus.
On 4 February, Belgium confirmed the first case. The patient, an asymptomatic 54-year-old male was one of nine Belgians repatriated from China. He was transferred from the Military Hospital of Neder-Over-Heembeek to Saint-Pierre Hospital in Brussels to be quarantined there 
On 21 February, a group of 10 Belgian citizens were allowed to return to Belgium after having been constrained on the MS Westerdam cruise ship for several days. Two couples used public transport to return home, notwithstanding the requirement to be quarantined for 2 weeks.
On 24 February, following the discovery of a COVID-19 case involving an Italian citizen, more than 100 Belgian citizens were put in quarantine in the H10 Costa Adeje Palace in Tenerife that was put on lockdown. Fifteen people were allowed to return on 28 February. The remainder were allowed to travel back to Belgium on 5 March, without having been tested for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
On 25 February, the Belgian federal minister of health Maggie De Block asserted that "Belgium was prepared" for the possible arrival of cases of infection with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.
On 1 March, a second case of coronavirus was confirmed in Belgium, a Dutch speaking woman who had returned from Crépy-en-Valois in one of the regions affected in France. At the same time phase 2 of the health risk containment strategy was activated. The yearly one week school holiday around carnival lasted from 22 February until 1 March 2020 and quite a few people go on ski vacation during that period. The number of detected virus infections therefore sharply rose upon the return of people having resided in the ski resorts of the North of Italy. The mayor of Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe, Olivier Maingain, was one of the only mayors to take measures to prevent the spreading of the new coronavirus by restricting access to schools, preschools, sports facilities and public places for persons returning from areas at risk and only a few schools, such as the International School Ghent, quarantined pupils that returned from areas at risk, such as Northern Italy.
On 2 March, six additional cases, making a total of eight, had been diagnosed. Five were found in Flanders and one in Brussels, all six having come back from Northern Italy. Minister De Block mentioned there was no reason to panic and said Belgium could cope with the epidemic. Some experts, like Marc Wathelet and professor Herman Goossens of the UZA in Antwerp criticized the (lack of) measures taken by the Belgian government and called for wider screening for the virus. Pharmacists complained they did not receive clear instructions from the authorities.
As of 3 March, six additional cases were confirmed, making a total of 14 cases. One of the infected persons was a 17-year old teenager who returned to his school in Tienen after a ski vacation in the North of Italy. Another person from Sint-Niklaas also returned from a skiing holiday. A patient from Verviers was hospitalised in a Brussels clinic, and two cases were found in Couthuin (part of Héron). One patient is a 65-year-old male from Eupen who presented relatively severe symptoms and had not been to any of the regions with a higher risk of infection. Steven Van Gucht of the Scientific Committee predicted that in the worst-case scenario the epidemic would cause 13,000 virus infections, with 2,000 to 3,000 hospitalisations and 500 to 700 patients in intensive care. In a later interview he mentioned different numbers saying that 70% of the population (approximately 8 million persons) could become infected.
As of 4 March, ten new cases were confirmed before noon, making a total of 23. Nine of the new patients recently returned from Italy. The other patient had contact with a prior case. Four cases were in the Leuven area, one case in Hasselt, and one in Pelt. In Wevelgem two related cases appeared. A complete family of 7 was infected upon their return from a ski holiday in the North of Italy. Initially the Belgian authorities did not want to test the family for the virus, notwithstanding the request of the family. Additionally a teacher in a primary school in Wevelgem, who was on the same ski vacation as the family of seven and even went to work for two and a half days after the school holiday became sick and was diagnosed with the covid-19 virus. The Agentschap Zorg en Gezondheid advised the school to not close down. A retirement home in Gooik stopped receiving visitors as a precautionary measure, because one employee could have been in contact with the new coronavirus. Joris Moonens, the spokesman of the Flemish Agency for Care and Health, expressed the opinion that this was not an appropriate measure.
On 4 March, the European Defence Agency (EDA) confirmed that a staff member had tested positive for coronavirus, marking the first confirmed case in the agencies of the European Union. The senior EDA official had returned from a trip to Italy the previous week. After returning from Italy, he attended a roughly four-hour meeting with about thirty other European Union officials last week before he started feeling ill on Saturday (29 February). A military staff member of the European External Action Service who attended the meeting has also begun experiencing symptoms. The EDA has cancelled all meetings until 13 March, and other European Union institutions are also taking precautions.
On 5 March, 27 new confirmed cases were reported by the government (16 in Flanders, 9 in Wallonia and 2 in Brussels), bringing the total to 50. Of the 50 persons 1 patient recovered, 48 are quarantined in their home and 1 person is being treated in the Sint-Pietersziekenhuis. The new cases were reported to be in Knokke-Heist, Zonhoven, Doomkerke (Ruiselede) and Vlierzele (part of Sint-Lievens-Houtem).
On 6 March, 59 new cases were reported by the government, bringing the total to 109 (65 in Flanders, 12 in Brussels, 31 in Wallonia and 1 cured). The new cases were amongst others reported in Oosterzele and Sint-Katelijne-Waver. The Ministry of Health confirmed for the first time that infections occurred on Belgium territory.
On 7 March, 60 new cases were confirmed by the government (40 in Flanders, 5 in Brussels and 15 in Wallonia), bringing the total to 169 (105 in Flanders, 17 in Brussels, 46 in Wallonia and 1 cured). The new cases were amongst others reported in Houthalen, Melle, Lokeren, Mere, Lede, Tildonk and Poppel. The UZ Leuven confirmed they were forced to limit the number of tests for the virus because of a shortage of reagents for the test. The ministry of public health mentioned that "more and more infections are being contracted locally” but did not provide the information on how many.
From 422 samples taken on 7 March 31 were tested positive on 8 March (16 in Flanders, 8 in Brussels and 7 in Wallonia), bringing the number of infections to 200. The ministry of health confirmed "local circulation of the virus from various locations" but did not disclose these locations.
On 7 March, it became clear that Belgium lacked enough reagents to do widespread COVID-19 testing and the National Reference Centre for Pathogens (NRC) was forced to apply a system of triage. Two surgeons from the Brussels Saint Pierre hospital addressed an open letter to prime minister Wilmès on 22 March demanding increased testing.
On 10 March, the total number of confirmed cases was 267; that day the government advised to cancel any indoor scheduled events to be attended by more than 1000 people for the month of March. Prime minister Wilmès stressed this was not an interdiction but rather a recommendation. Schools remain open but are advised to cancel trips abroad and multi-day excursions in general. Companies are advised to have their personnel work from home as much as possible and allow flexible working times to allow a better spread of public transport use throughout the day. The authorities called this 'reinforced phase 2'.
Belgium belongs to the top 5 European countries with respect to number of intensive care units (ICUs): before the outbreak of the pandemic the number of ICUs was quoted to be around 15.9 to 16.5 ICUs per 100 000 inhabitants. Around 10 March, the Belgian hospitals started to increase their number of intensive care units (ICU). Jan Eyckmans of the Federal Public Service Health claimed they increased it from 1900 to 2650 in two weeks time, corresponding to an increase from 16.5 to 23.0 ICUs per 100 000 inhabitants. However, on the daily press conference of the Belgian National Crisis Centre of 28 March Dr Emmanuel André of the UZ Leuven mentioned that the number of 789 ICUs corresponded to 43% of the capacity, bringing the total capacity to 1835 instead of 2650, while Dr Steven Van Gucht quoted the capacity to be 2081 units and De Standaard mentioned the number of 1765.
On 11 March, ministers De Block and Maron announced that the first death on Belgian territory due to COVID-19 occurred on 10 March, a 90-year-old female patient from Brussels who was being treated in Etterbeek. Two more patients died on the same day, one person aged 73 and one person aged 86 who died in Sint-Genesius-Rode. Zorgnet Icuro requested minister Beke to take stronger actions with respect to visitor access at retirement homes in Flanders. Professors Herman Goossens and Marc Van Ranst expressed the opinion that more drastic measures were required for Belgium and questioned the limit of maximum 1000 people for indoor events set by prime minister Wilmès on 10 March.
On 12 March, 2 new infections were detected as well as 32 suspected cases in retirement home Ter Kameren in Watermaal-Bosvoorde, one of the biggest retirement homes of the Brussels region. The total number of confirmed cases rose to 399. Approximately 20 patients (approx. 5%) out of those 399 were being treated in intensive care. The Belgische Vereniging van Artsensyndicaten (BVAS/ABSyM) called for a closure of all schools at short notice and warned for a potential collapse of the health care system in Belgium. In an open letter several Flemish rectors, two members belonging to the Coronavirus Scientific Committee that advises the Belgian authorities and several other experts in the fields of epidemiology, virology, biostatistics and health economics urged the authorities to take decisive measures and to avoid non-binding instructions and guidelines. Many people started hoarding for the next one and a half week.
Late in the evening on 12 March, after a meeting of the National Security Council, the Belgian government ordered the closure of schools, discos, cafes and restaurants, and the cancellation of all public gatherings for sporting, cultural or festive purposes from Friday 13 March at midnight onwards. It was stressed that the measures taken were not a lockdown because people are not required to stay home. Earlier that day mayor Leopold Lippens already had ordered similar measures for his municipality of Knokke-Heist. The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen informed the entire staff that 7 of their colleagues had tested positive, six of whom in Belgium. She also instructed "all colleagues in non-critical functions" to work from home with immediate effect until 5 April, while those "who ensure critical functions" would need to work in two shifts to minimize the risk of contagion.
From Friday 13 March onwards the Belgian National Crisis Centre (NCCN) started to hold a daily press conference at 11h led by spokesmen Benoît Ramacker, Peter Mertens and Yves Stevens with doctors Steven Van Gucht and Emmanuel André.
Experts and authorities expressed their indignation about citizens organising or taking part in so-called 'lock-down or corona parties'. Mayors of municipalities close to the border with the Netherlands such as Paul Van Miert of Turnhout urged their Dutch counterparts to request their national authorities in the Netherlands to implement similar measures as in Belgium.
The coronavirus pandemic sparked new debate on the ongoing federal government formation. Representatives of N-VA, PS, Open Vld, MR, CD&V and sp.a sat together on 14 and 15 March to talk about an emergency coalition. This idea was however rejected by Magnette (PS) and Bouchez (MR) during the live RTL television show "C'est pas tous les jours dimanche" and eventually these parties (except N-VA) together with Ecolo, Groen, cdH and DéFI opted to temporarily grant more competences to the caretaker Wilmès I Government instead, under the form of a new Wilmès II Government, which represents only 38 of the 150 representatives, but no longer in caretaker status, allowing more flexibility to take quick decisions.
On the evening of 17 March, the Prime Minister broadcast a decision to impose stricter social distancing measures from noon the following day until 5 April, with non-essential travel prohibited, non-essential shops to close, gatherings banned, and penalties to force companies and individuals to abide by the rules.
On 20 March, from 3 p.m. onwards Belgium closed its borders to all non-essential travel. Earlier that day the governor of West Flanders had complained about Dutch and French citizens coming to Belgium for tourism or shopping. That day the chairman of the Scientific Committee also expressed the hope that the measures that came into effect on 14 March would lead to a stabilisation of the number of hospitalisations starting from the mid of the week of 23 March.
On 21 March, Prof. dr. Erika Vlieghe of the Scientific Committee mentioned that the she expected the peak of the pandemic to occur early April.
Several brewers, a pharmaceutical company and the Sugar refinery of Tienen started to produce alcohol for hand sanitiser from 21 March onwards in an effort to alleviate the shortage in Belgium.
On 25 March the Financial Times praised Belgium for its handling of the Wuhan coronavirus crisis. From 25 March onwards people arriving at Brussels Airport were handed over a leaflet with the compelling advice to quarantine themselves for a fortnight.
On the daily press conference of 27 March Steven Van Gucht announced that one cat had been infected by its owner. This was a rare occurrence and only the third time an infection of a pet was observed worldwide. The cat developed respiratory and digestive issues. On 27 March the National Sercurity Council and the governments decided to extend the measures taken so far until at least 19 April (until the end of the Easter vacation) with an option to extend the period with two weeks until 3 May.
The additional number of people that tested positive for the novel coronavirus was rather high on 28 March compared to the previous days because more persons were being tested and because a major Walloon laboratory had not reported any cases so far and reported 500 additional cases from the past days with a delay.
On 30 March it was announced that because of the high burden on some hospitals in the provinces of Limburg and Hainaut, the distribution plan for ICU patients had been activated.
On 31 March (data reported on 1st April), a drop in the daily increase of patients being treated in hospitals was observed. This can be explained by the rise of discharged patients: 436 people left hospital in the last 24 hours.
Research to find a vaccine against COVID-19, medication for the lung disease or new test methods are concentrated in Belgium amongst others at the KU Leuven (vaccine and new medication, Prof Johan Neyts), at the University of Namur (new test method, Benoït Muylkens) and by private companies in collaboration with universities (new 15 minute test method detecting coronavirus antigens, CORIS BioConcept).
Attempts to model and predict the progress of the SARS-CoV-2 virus spread with compartmental models are undertaken at Ghent University (Prof Jan M. Baetens) and Hasselt University (Prof Niel Hens). Professor Barbé at the Free University of Brussels-VUB uses a first order differential equation with two proxy variables (a and b):
Belgian researchers at the Royal Observatory of Belgium noticed a drop of the background noise on the seismic data that could be the result of transport networks and other human activities being shut down.
The number of confirmed infections is the number of samples tested positive by a reference laboratory. It is estimated that the actual number of cases is much higher than the number of confirmed cases, the tests being limited to specific people and/or to people with severe symptoms. Diagnosed cases are an underestimate of the real number by a factor of between 5 and 10 according to Professor Marc Van Ranst.
In the period of 1 March to 6 March the number of detected cases grew on average exponentially with a doubling of the number of cases every day. In the period between 7 March and 27 March the number of confirmed cases doubled on average every 3.7 days (20.9 % daily increase).
Sciensano started to publish a map with incidence numbers per municipality starting 26 March. This map showed that the highest recorded concentrations of infections were found in Alken and Sint-Truiden (Limburg) and Quévy and Honnelles (Hainaut). The hotspot in Alken is thought to have been caused by two parties that were allowed to go on in the weekend of 7 March. The mayor of Sint-Truiden, who was herself infected by the new corona virus, mentioned she did not understand the reason for the high incidence in her town. The only potential explanation so far were the festivities around carnival (24 February, 75th Verloure Moondagstoet). The high level of cases in the affluent municipality of Bonheiden is thought to be linked with a high amount of families that returned from ski resorts in the North of Italy beginning of March. Both Quévy and Honnelles are located at the border with the French commune of Bavay in the Nord department. While the high incidence in Honnelles could be linked to an outbreak in a centre for disabled people, the mayor of Quévy had no idea what caused the high numbers in her municipality and complained about the lack of communication and protective equipment.
Sciensano started to publish confirmed cases and incidence numbers per province starting 18 March. In the period between 17 March and 21 March it became clear that the province of Limburg was a hotspot for the coronavirus where the incidence grew much faster compared to the rest of the country: while on 17 March the incidence in Limburg was 1.5 times the average incidence for the country, this had already increased to 1.9 times the average incidence on 21 March. On 21 March it was observed that more than half of the patients in the hospital Oost-Limburg in Genk were from Turkish origin. Secretary of state Zuhal Demir urged the Turkish community in Limburg to abide by the quarantine measures.
The daily Sciensano report of 28 March saw a spectacular rise of the incidence numbers for the province of Liège: from 19 confirmed cases per 100 000 population on 27 March it rose to 77. This was due to underreporting by a lab in the province. On 29 March the province of Liège even became the second worst affected province in Belgium after Limburg.
+ Brussels-Capital Region
|Source: Data collected by Sciensano, as of 2020/04/01.|
|Confirmed||Deaths||Active||Hosp. adm||Hosp. disch||Tested|
|Confirmed||Deaths||Active||Hosp. adm||Hosp. disch||Tested|
|Source: Sciensano epidemiological data page for COVID-19|
Note: For some reason, Sciensano is using different age ranges for confirmed cases and for deaths.
The official reports from the national public health institute do not refer to recovered people but only to discharged patients. The patients are discharged after resolution of symptoms, even though they are not being tested again before leaving the hospital.
The number of recovered people who were tested positive but not admitted to hospital remains unknown as there is no follow-up on these cases. The total number of recoveries is therefore underestimated, particularly in a context where there are many undetected positive cases presenting mild symptoms and recovering as well. The situation is similar in France.
In the period between 17 March and 21 March the number of deaths due to COVID-19 doubled on average every 1.4 days (64 % daily increase). Of the 289 first fatalities 3 were in the category 25 to 44 years of age, 22 were in the category 45 to 64 years of age, 58 in the category 65 to 74 years, 98 in the category 75 to 84 years and 108 in the category of 85 years and older. The youngest fatality overall in Belgium was a 12-year-old girl while the oldest person to die was 104 years.
On 25 March 2020 Belgium ranked 6th in the list of countries within the European Union with the highest amounts of casualties, while on 1 April Belgium had the third highest death toll, after Italy and Spain.
On 29 March an experiment at the UZ Brussel confirmed the suspicion that some Belgians are infected with the coronavirus without knowing it. Studies conducted by UZ Brussel on patients that are being treated for small procedures and who do not have COVID-19 symptoms, show that approximately 8 % carry the virus and have an infection in the lungs. Partial herd immunity can reduce the spread of the virus.
This section needs to be updated. In particular: data based on actual dates instead of report dates is now available.April 2020)(
Total cases in Belgium (cumulative)
New confirmed cases per day in Belgium
New hospitalisations per day in Belgium
Active cases in hospital per day (incl. ICU)
Notes: Data is missing from reports of 17 and 18 March.
New deaths per day in Belgium
Confirmed new cases per day by region