Belgian healthcare workers turn their backs on prime minister in powerful silent protest

Despite being a small country, Belgium currently has one of the highest reported death rates from coronavirus in the world.

This is because of the way they measure deaths – unlike the UK, they also count suspected Covid-19 deaths in care homes as part of the official toll claimed by the virus.

At the time of writing, the country has recorded 9,052 deaths, giving it a death rate of 16.4 per cent.

And there have been serious criticisms of the way the Belgian prime minister has handled the crisis.

Sophie Wilmès has come under fire for healthcare budget cuts, low staff salaries and a recent decree that untrained staff can now undertake nursing duties during the pandemic.

The latter led to healthcare workers at a central Brussels hospital engaging in a silent protest against Wilmès when she made an unofficial visit on Saturday.

Staff at the Saint-Pierre Hospital – the first medical institution to treat a coronavirus patient in Belgium– greeted Wilmès’ car by silently turning their backs, in what was described as a “guard of dishonour”.

Afterwards, one nurse told broadcaster RTBF that the gesture had been to mirror the way they perceived politicians ignoring their calls for support.

Politicians constantly turn their backs on our appeals for help.

The teams are under-staffed and the burnout rates show it. We want the profession to be valued properly.

In response, Wilmès said that she was aware of the need for mediation between healthcare workers and her administration.

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

Footage of the protest quickly went viral on social media, with many praising the peaceful demonstration.

“Powerful, visual protest,” wrote one Twitter user.

Others urged healthcare workers in different countries to take inspiration from the moment.

So will turning our backs become the new Thursday clap? Probably not. But it's still a very powerful moment.

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