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The COVID-19 figures: collection, verification and publication

Ever since the virus appeared in Belgium, Sciensano has been collecting data on the number of infections, hospitalisations and deaths from COVID-19. A range of collection and analysis methods were set up for this, which are regularly adjusted in order to provide the best possible picture of the current epidemic situation. An impressive operation, carried out across the country, rests upon the shoulders of dozens of scientists, with the sole aim of providing experts, authorities and the population with the necessary information.

Extensive data collection

The work carried out every day makes it possible to publish a daily report, a weekly report and dynamic charts of transparent data.

In practice, we collect the data reported to us by: • the national reference lab • the hospitals • the residential care centres • the General Practitioners (GPs) • and the network of sentinel GPs and hospitals for the monitoring of flu-like syndrome.

We supplement this information with the systematic collection of specific data in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. This includes information on the number of tests carried out in the laboratories concerned, the monitoring of a whole range of data from the hospitals and relevant information from the GPs. We also add data on absence from work to this, and we collect data from the regional health inspection services, data on the deaths, etc. Moreover, we are continuously expanding and improving this monitoring in order to provide the best possible picture of the reality on the ground.

Consolidation is a necessity

The various sources do not always report the same type of data by any means, and the manner and frequency of reporting can also vary. Our role is to bring all this data together, to verify it and to consolidate it into meaningful information. It takes time to put databases together with solid and usable data for each category.

We take a snapshot of the data collected at a certain time every day. We analyse this, taking account of possible deviations in the reporting of data to us. In order to map out the evolution of the epidemic, we identify:

  • the number of cases, whether or not confirmed
  • the number of hospital admissions and discharges
  • the number of intensive care admissions and the number of patients needing ventilation
  • the number of deaths, suspected or confirmed.

In line with the available data, this information is divided up by age, gender and region (and/or per province or municipality). Figures we receive with a delay are retroactively added to the data from previous days. Any potential duplication in the figures obtained is checked, given the large quantity of sources providing us with information every day.

Transparent information for everyone

Reliable and consolidated data takes time. This is why our reports focus more on the trends that show the evolution of the epidemic, rather than on the evolution of the raw data itself. The latter is available via our website.

By monitoring the epidemic closely every day and continuing to improve our methods, we can get through this difficult period. The evolution of the figures gives experts and authorities a guideline for combatting this epidemic. Science, in the service of health, will bring us the knowledge we need for continually evaluating what actions are required to break the curve of this COVID-19 pandemic.