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Belgium had the worst response to the coronavirus crisis among OECD countries, EIU says

A commuter wearing a protective face mask arrives at the Gare Bruxelles-Central train station while a man with a mouth mask reads a book in a corridor on May 4, 2020 in Brussels.

KENZO TRIBOUILLARD

Belgium had the worst response to the coronavirus crisis out of OECD countries, while New Zealand’s response was the strongest, according to a new ranking.

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) on Wednesday published an index that rated how well governments across 21 member states had reacted to the pandemic.

Each country was given an overall score out of four.  

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is a cohort of 37 member states that works together to shape policies around socioeconomic issues. In its report, the EIU analyzed the responses of 21 of those countries to the health crisis.

Economists finalized the scores by weighing three risk factors — obesity prevalence, share of the population over the age of 65 and international arrivals — against three “quality of response” indicators, which were testing, provision of non-Covid 19 health care, and death rates from the virus.

With an overall rating of 2.11, which fell into the “poor” threshold, Belgium was ranked at the bottom of the index.

Despite receiving the highest possible score for its testing capacity, Belgium was given the lowest score for its death rate. To date, 9,663 people in Belgium have died of Covid-19, making it the country with the highest death rate per capita in the world, according to Our World in Data.

The country has faced controversy throughout the crisis. Officials have been accused of overcounting deaths from the coronavirus, and health-care workers in the country famously turned their backs on their prime minister during a hospital visit in protest against the government’s handling of the crisis.

Sophie Wilmes, Belgium’s prime minister, later told Belgian broadcaster RTBF she wanted to bring “a message of appeasement” to hospital staff.

She has also said the country chose to report Covid-19 deaths with “full transparency” — even if it has led to overinflated numbers. Meanwhile, Health Minister Maggie De Block defended the government’s methods of counting deaths, claiming Belgium has “the most detailed method” in Europe.

At the other end of the EIU’s ranking was New Zealand, which has been widely viewed as a global leader in its efforts to eradicate the virus and received a score of 3.67.

The country, which employed a “go hard, go early” response to the outbreak, ended a 24-day streak of being free of the coronavirus on Monday, when two visiting Britons imported the virus. Officials have said the pair, who were reportedly allowed out of quarantine early to visit a dying relative, pose no risk to the public.

Meanwhile, the United States‘ response to the crisis was given a “good” overall score of 3.11 by the EIU.

The U.S. scored well for its testing and death rate — which despite being the highest in the world at 116,963 is still markedly lower per capita than many European economies like the U.K., France, Spain and Sweden.

America’s overall score was brought down by the country being high risk in the obesity prevalence and older population categories.

The U.K., Spain and Italy — which have all struggled to handle the outbreak and have the highest death tolls from Covid-19 in Europe — came in joint second-to-last place on the EIU’s ranking, with an overall “poor” score of 2.22.

The governments of Australia, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Israel, New Zealand and Norway had performed best in dealing with the public health emergency, the report’s authors said, attributing those countries’ successes to low excess deaths during the pandemic, solid tracking and tracing programs, and the continuation of health-care services for non-coronavirus patients.

“This is a particularly impressive feat, given that in most of these countries over-65s account for a significant share of the population, making them vulnerable to severe coronavirus infection,” they said.

“Overall, these countries appear to have succeeded in containing the pandemic because they reacted early and swiftly. Not all of them introduced stringent lockdowns, but all implemented aggressive testing and tracing programs.”

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