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Belgium: Workers protest during PM's hospital visit

Healthcare professionals welcome Sophie Wilmes with 'guard of dishonor' over COVID-19 'mismanagement'

Agnes Szucs  | 17.05.2020 - Update : 18.05.2020
Belgium: Workers protest during PM's hospital visit


Hundreds of medical staffers, in a sign of protest, turned their backs on Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes during her Saturday visit to a hospital in the capital Brussels.

The premier was on her maiden to two healthcare institutions since the coronavirus outbreak.

The employees of the Saint Peter hospital gave a “guard of dishonor” to the prime minister at her arrival. They stood in line next to each other at the entrance, and turned their backs on the PM’s car.

The unfriendly welcome was meant to express disapproval of the government’s managing of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a recently passed legislation regarding employment in the health sector.

Doctors and nurses, as well as the staff dealing with administrative, cleaning and logistical tasks, participated in the demonstration.

The Saint Peter hospital is Belgium’s reference institution to treat virus patients since the beginning of the pandemic.

Medical staff across Belgium have been complaining of extreme fatigue and burnout due to long working hours during the virus outbreak, as well as low salaries and budget cuts.

Besides, the government has passed a "controversial" legislation that increases the workload on healthcare workers, and allows the recruitment of medically non-skilled workers for nurse positions.

Following her visit, Wilmes told a news conference that she perceived the protest as a call for talks between the government and the health sector.

“Nothing will be the same after the crisis, we need to reevaluate the importance of the nursing profession," she said.

Before taking charge as the prime minister in 2019, Wilmes served as minister for budget, and during her four-year tenure there had been massive cuts on healthcare spending.

In Belgium, a country of over 11 million, more than 55,000 people have been infected by the virus thus far, with over 9,000 virus-linked deaths.

In the past week, however, the epidemic situation seemed to have stabilized as daily hospitalizations and deaths were restricted under 100.

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