Concerted action enabled Belgium to respond to the COVID-19 crisis


14/12/2023 - In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, Belgium displayed economic and social resilience supported by co-ordinated efforts from government bodies and various sectors of society, says a recent OECD report.

As highlighted in the Evaluation of Belgium’s COVID-19 Responses, Belgium successfully withstood the complexities of the pandemic by capitalising on a deeply ingrained culture of co-ordination between federal and federated entities. The country adjusted its health and education capabilities and provided substantial support to households and businesses.

The initial phase of the pandemic hit Belgium hard. In 2020, the mortality rate was 11.8% higher than in the five years before the pandemic (2015-19). This increase in the mortality rate was about twice as high as the 5.8% increase on average in OECD countries. Older persons, particularly those in nursing homes, were especially affected.

The Belgian health system was able to respond relatively robustly by taking measures over the course of the pandemic, such as scaling up and closely monitoring hospital capacity and deploying a strategic vaccination campaign which identified and targeted vulnerable groups. By March 2022, 78% of the population were vaccinated compared with an OECD average of 73%.

The education system withstood significant challenges and ensured pedagogical continuity by deploying distance learning through digital tools and adapting school attendance protocols, which successfully resulted in national COVID-19-related school closures between 2020 and 2022 amounting to only 44 days, one of the lowest in the OECD.

Belgium also quickly provided economic support to firms and households through existing mechanisms as well as direct support, emergency loans and guarantee schemes. After a drop of 14% between the fourth quarter of 2019 and the second quarter of 2020, real GDP was back at pre-pandemic levels by mid-2021.

“COVID-19 brought with it challenges for Belgium and countries all around the world that were unprecedented for decades. Belgium rapidly put in place economic support for households and businesses, and ensured continuity of education through digital-based learning and with relatively short national school closures,” OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann said presenting the evaluation alongside Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. “The experience of the COVID-19 crisis offers us insights for Belgium into opportunities to further strengthen policies. Priorities are enhancing risk anticipation and crisis response management, as well as strengthening the resilience of the health system, and targeting fiscal support as quickly as possible towards financially viable businesses most in need to reduce spending and to avoid inflationary pressures in the recovery phase.”

Looking ahead, Belgium should draw lessons from the COVID-19 crisis to strengthen its preparedness for future crises, particularly by:

  • Improving risk anticipation, pandemic preparedness and risk management across sectors and all levels of government.
  • Strengthening co-operation among different levels of government in times of crisis and increasing the use of data and evidence for decision making.
  • Building further health system capacity to respond to crises faster.
  • Better targeting support towards households and businesses most in need to limit fiscal costs and to avoid inflationary pressures in the recovery phase.
  • Widening social protection systems to include workers with shorter employment records and with insufficient contributions for unemployment benefits.
  • Improving equality of opportunities in education, for example by fostering teachers’ and students’ digital literacy across the population.


Future policies should support a continued recovery and address the long-term impacts of the pandemic that have a disproportionate impact on women, low-income households, children and young people, as well as low-skilled, part-time, temporary and self-employed workers. Fiscal restraint and employment- and productivity-enhancing policy reforms would avoid a further rise in public debt, support economic growth, and build on actions taken since the pandemic.

The evaluation used the OECD framework for “Evaluating COVID-19 Responses” and drew on a wide variety of qualitative and quantitative data, including survey data collected from the country’s ministries, municipalities, hospitals, general practitioners and schools.

For further information, journalists are invited to contact Reemt Seibel in the OECD Media Office (+ 33 1 45 24 97 00).

The full report is available on the OECD website.


Working with over 100 countries, the OECD is a global policy forum that promotes policies to preserve individual liberty and improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.


Related Documents