All over the world people are struggling to overcome the health and economic impact of COVID19. Faced with a health crisis, economic recession, and social shock which are time and again labelled ‘unprecedented’, solutions enhancing societal resilience are urgently needed. However designing effective policies to promote resilience is hampered by two major challenges: on the one hand, the event is still unfolding, so we completely lack empirical observations to model any longer-term effects on health and economy. On the other hand, available evidence suggests that the impact on health and economy of the COVID-19 pandemic is socially fragmented, which means that some groups are more vulnerable than others and that policies should be taking into account these inequalities in vulnerability and resilience.
EPIBEL (www.epibel.be) answers both challenges by mobilizing the epidemic history of Belgium. The project is unique in its systematic comparison of impact and resilience during the current COVID-19 crisis and a selection of epidemic outbreaks in the past. By using a spatio-temporal approach and by focusing on the social, demographic and economic conditions before, during and after the outbreak, EPIBEL will identify the contexts and population groups that were more affected than others by epidemics, and will gain better insight into the conditions and policies that can prevent epidemic threat from turning into long-lasting catastrophes. In doing so, EPIBEL aims to turn the historical knowledge of previous epidemics into a powerful tool for current and future health policies, but also aims to restore the memory of these epidemics, which is of crucial importance in raising societal awareness.