Half of all coronavirus deaths in Belgium are taking place in nursing homes, figures have revealed.
Belgium has so far reported 33,573 confirmed cases including 4,440 deaths.
Of these total fatalities, 46 per cent were in nursing homes, the latest data showed.
It comes as the the country’s stay-at-home order was extended until at least May 3.
The lockdown has seen schools, bars and restaurants closed since mid-March, as the country’s per capita death rate has risen to among the highest in the world.
Mass gatherings, including concerts and sporting events, have been banned until the end of August.
Announcing the decision, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said she would hold new crisis talks next week to discuss a ‘progressive’ loosening of measures from early May.
Belgium has so far reported 33,573 confirmed cases of coronavirus, including 4,440 deaths. Pictured: Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes
Belgium’s stay-at-home order has been extended until at least May 3, while mass gatherings, such as concerts and sporting events, have been banned until late August. Pictured: Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes holds a news conference today
Belgium is one of few countries in Europe that includes in its daily tally of coronavirus-related deaths all non-hospitalised people who displayed symptoms of the disease even if they had not been confirmed as having had it.
That may help to explain why Belgium, a small country of about 11.5 million people, now has the fifth highest coronavirus death toll in Europe, ahead of more populous nations like Germany and the Netherlands.
Highlighting fears that many other nations may be under-reporting deaths, Britain released data on Tuesday suggesting its true death toll is probably much higher than government figures, which only record hospital fatalities.
With an overall mortality rate of around 12 per cent, Belgium would be the hardest-hit small country in Europe, according to data.
In Residence Christalain nursing home in Brussels, resident Marie-Louise Parre she was afraid: ‘The anxiety is mounting, there is nothing to do.’
A veteran Belgian politician, Didier Reynders, described the number of nursing home deaths as worrying.
Other countries may well be in a similar situation but it is simply not reflected in their statistics.
In the Netherlands, for example, a large number of coronavirus deaths might not have been reported as such because of under-testing in nursing homes.
Italy, with the second highest death toll in the world after the United States, only started testing in nursing homes last week.
France includes nursing home deaths in its official tally of fatalities but they need first to have been tested and confirmed as having had COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.
The same is true of Spain, meaning that those dying at home or in nursing homes with related symptoms – but untested – are not included in official figures.
Belgium’s nursing homes now have sufficient face masks but still lack oxygen supplies for ventilators, Philippe De Backer, the federal minister tasked with coordinating the coronavirus response, has said.
After repeated calls from regional bodies, the Belgian government said all staff and residents at nursing homes would now be tested, in a process expected to take about three weeks.
Government officials said a fifth of nursing home residents and 14 per cent of staff had been confirmed as having coronavirus based on some 11,000 tests conducted on Tuesday.