A 100th birthday is an occasion to celebrate in the best of times.
During a coronavirus epidemic that has cut a swathe through Europe’s elderly and vulnerable, it proved inspirational.
On Wednesday, staff and well-wishers at the Bois de l’Abbaye hospital in eastern Belgium took a moment to salute newly-minted centenarian Julia Dewilde.
The retiree, who was born during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1920, celebrated her birthday at the weekend, four days before a test confirmed her recovery from COVID-19 and she was allowed to return to her retirement home.
There, she will at last be allowed a visit from her loved ones.
“Yes, they’ll come tomorrow,” she exclaimed, as she was wheeled out of the hospital to the cheers of staff and the clicks of journalists’ cameras.
“I’ll see them tomorrow. It will do me good.”
Dewilde’s story seems to have done her hard-pressed carers good, too, providing a moment of triumph in a tough season for nurses and doctors beset with the pandemic.
“She’s one of our greatest successes. It’s heartwarming,” said Laura Bertrand, the nurse who has followed Dewilde’s case since she was admitted to the hospital in Seraing, outside Liege.
Like many other retirees, the centenarian was diagnosed with the novel coronavirus infection and breathing difficulties in mid-April and admitted to hospital.
She developed a bacterial infection as well, that needed antibiotic treatment, and was re-hydrated and given oxygen to alleviate her respiratory problems.
But she was not intubated and was never transferred to the intensive care unit.
Instead, after 19 days during which she clocked up 100 years on earth, she gradually recovered and eventually passed a test confirming her recovery.
With 11.5 million inhabitants and 7,500 coronavirus deaths — mainly among those older than 75 — Belgium is per capita one of the worst hit countries.
But the small kingdom’s figures are more up to date than many of its neighbours, with those who die in retirement homes — around half of the fatalities — counted in the latest official toll.