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Covid-19 infections in Belgium 12 times higher than reported, says study

Almost 800,000 people in Belgium have been infected with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 since the start of the global pandemic – 12 times more than reported in official figures, according to a study carried out by the university of Antwerp.

At the same time, another study reveals that health care personnel are 3.5 times more likely to become infected than the population as a whole.

The study examined blood samples collected since the end of March and concluded that if the results are extrapolated to the entire population, 7% of people or a total of 782,000 have been infected.

“Our analysis may even be an underestimate,” said epidemiologist Professor Pierre Van Damme, who led the study with Dr Heidi Theeten.

By comparison, the official figures produced by the health institute Sciensano count a total of 68,000 infections since the disease appeared. According to the study, the discrepancy shows the number of people who are carrying the virus without knowing it.

“Clearly we are missing a lot of cases of infection,” Prof. Van Damme said.

“We searched globally and randomly for antibodies in our research, but in Belgium’s infection hot-spots, the figures may exceed the 7% that we discovered.”

In another study, published in The Lancet, researchers examined information supplied by users of a smartphone app in the UK and the US, and concluded that health care professional were 3.4 times more likely to become infected than users in general.

The incidence of infection among health care workers was 2,747 per 100,000, compared with 242 for the general population of users. However when the numbers are adjusted for factors such as access to tests, the researchers arrived at a figure for the professionals of 823.

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And in fact, the increased risk was even greater in ethnic minority, black and Asian users, regardless of their medical history. Among the general population, the increased likelihood was 2.5 times greater, while among minority healthcare workers the difference was 1.8 times greater.

“Our results confirm the structural inequalities in the face of Covid-19,” the authors said. “Minority caregivers were more likely to work in riskier clinical environments, with suspected or confirmed Covid patients, and had less access to adequate protective equipment.”

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times

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