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Dozens of health care workers in Belgium turned their backs on Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès during a hospital visit Saturday in silent protest over the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Wilmès visited two hospitals in the capital Brussels, writing on Twitter that she wanted to open a dialogue with medical workers about the health situation, the mental strain of the job, and health care financing.
However, Wilmès was met with a cold reception from the staff at Saint-Pierre Hospital.
In a video circulated online, health care workers slowly turned their backs as Wilmès’ motorcade drove onto the premises.
Some witnesses described it as a “guard of dishonor,” according to The Brussels Times, which reported the occasion marked Wilmès' first visits to any hospital since the start of the health crisis.
Staff engaged in the silent protest to express their disappointment with how the government has handled the crisis, taking issue with budget cuts, low salaries, and staff shortages, those representing the workers told the paper.
They said the staff was also unhappy about the government’s recent decree to recruit unqualified staff to assist nurses instead of paying trained professionals.
The hospital’s director-general, Philippe Leroy, told the paper the prime minister’s visit was “very appreciated,” adding that his staff has “gone through a lot of emotions.”
“There is fatigue, and a lot of anxiety at some points,” he said. “I think they needed to express a lot of things.”
Belgium is one of the hardest-hit nations in the world. There are 55,559 confirmed coronavirus cases and 9,080 deaths as of Monday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
With its population of nearly 11.5 million people, Belgium has the world’s highest mortality rate among confirmed cases at 16.4 percent, according to the data. It also has the most deaths in relation to its population, with 78 deaths per 100,000 people.
In comparison, the data shows the U.S. has 27 deaths per 100,000 people.