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Mass COVID-19 testing underway at stricken Belgian care homes

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium has begun testing more than 210,000 residents and staff at nursing homes, which now account for about half of the coronavirus-related deaths in the country.

Belgium is one of only a few countries in Europe that includes all non-hospitalised people who displayed symptoms of the disease in its daily tally of COVID-19 deaths, 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 that has been in lockdown since mid-March, now has the fifth highest coronavirus death toll in Europe, more than larger countries such as Germany and the Netherlands.

On Thursday, Belgian medical authorities said the coronavirus death toll had risen to 4,857 people, of which 49% had been in care homes. Of these, only 6.5% were confirmed as having COVID-19. The vast majority were merely suspected cases.

The mass testing at care homes is expected to take around three weeks.

Reporting by Yves Herman, writing by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Kirsten Donovan

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