Belgium’s PM Sophie Wilmes has visited one of the nation’s hospitals battling the pandemic – but the medical staff literally turned their backs on her to show that her “display of support” for frontline workers was not enough.
Prime Minister Wilmes faced a cold welcome at the Saint-Pierre hospital in the Belgian capital Brussels, where the doctors and nurses found a novel way to show their dissatisfaction with the government’s policies amid the novel coronavirus epidemic. The nation has had one of the highest Covid-19 mortality rates in Europe.
Footage obtained by RT’s video agency Ruptly shows dozens of medical specialists lining up in the hospital yard along the path of the prime minister’s motorcade. The medics turn their backs to the cars in silence as soon as the vehicles would reach them.
Around 100 people, including nurses, doctors, logistical helpers as well as cleaning and administrative staff, took part in the protest, according to the local media, which quickly dubbed the action a “guard of dishonor.”
Origins of the anger
The medics and support staff have been dissatisfied with healthcare budget cuts and low salaries. Their anger has been especially fueled by a recent government decree allowing involuntary requisition of medical personnel – meaning that medics could be summoned to work or moved elsewhere whenever the authorities deem necessary.
“Politicians constantly turn their backs on us when we cry for help,” a nurse told the local media. “The [medical] teams are understaffed and the burn-out rate demonstrates this.”
The Belgian government scrambles to gain the upper hand
Wilmes later said in a Twitter post she met with the staff of the Saint-Pierre hospital among others to discuss the “health situation, personal protection, mental load” as well as healthcare funding, adding that “no subject was excluded.”
Les visites des hôpitaux Chirec-Delta et Saint-Pierre furent un moment de rencontres, dialogue important pour personnel soignant comme pour moi. Situation sanitaire, protections, charge mentale, valorisation du métier, financement des soins de santé, aucun sujet n’a été écarté. pic.twitter.com/8uJAuhn99V
— Sophie Wilmès (@Sophie_Wilmes) May 16, 2020
Not all government officials showed understanding for the protest action. Minister of Energy, Environment and Sustainable Development Marie-Christine Marghem lashed out at the hospital staff over what she described as a “politicized” protest.
In a since-deleted Facebook post, the minister accused the medics of an attempt to “ruin the capital of sympathy and admiration built in the recent months with ridiculous actions” and compared the protesters to “children that did not get what they wanted.”
Since then, her Facebook page has been flooded by furious comments and calls to apologize, as well as by accusations of being out of touch with the people and of “understanding nothing of the true nature of politics.”
Wave of support on social media
Many people took to Twitter to praise and extend support for medics involved in the protest. The messages also asked other countries to take heed from the demonstrations in Belgium.
Silent protest is so powerful. Respect for the Healthcare in Belgium.
Despite the full and extended lock down the Corona victims are sky high in relation to other countries. Something goes terribly wrong 😡 https://t.co/1ZQQTi3UpI
— Edith Kwaspen (@EdithKwaspen) May 17, 2020
Belgium in the eye of the storm: worst hit country in the world
Belgium currently has 55,559 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 9,080 deaths. According to a report by the Washington Post, Belgium’s mortality rate among confirmed cases is a staggering 16.4%, the worst in the world by a considerable margin. Belgian officials have elucidated that such numbers are the result of their efforts to capture the ground reality as correctly as they can. In any case, Belgium is worse hit when compared to its neighbours, even when calculations factor in the differences in size.
The protest by hospital staff is a setback for Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes in her endeavour to bring back normalcy to post-lockdown Belgium.
RT with additional input by GVS News Desk