Coronavirus: hundreds of medical staff protest in Brussels and Wallonia
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Coronavirus: hundreds of medical staff protest in Brussels and Wallonia

Around 200 health care workers protested outside the Finance Tower in Brussels, which houses the federal health ministry's cabinets. © Belga

Hundreds of health care workers in Brussels and Wallonia protested the underfunding of Belgium’s social security on Sunday, which they said exacerbated the coronavirus pandemic.

Some 200 health care professionals gathered outside the cabinet of Health Minister Maggie De Block in Brussels’ Finance Tower, with hundreds more gathered in Liège, Charleroi and Namur.

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Demonstrators turned their backs to the buildings housing the cabinets, in a reference to a striking protest by Brussels hospital workers against the Prime Minister which drew global attention.

“The government is counting the pennies, we are counting the death,” “you can’t mask misery” or “no return to normal” were among the slogans chanted and displayed on protesters’ signs.

“Public health services have for years been suffering from an underfunding that became even more evident during the Covid-19 public health crisis,” a demonstrator and young health care worker identified as Stephen told BX1.

“Sometimes, we had to choose who got to wear a mask,” he added. “The government put health care staff and the population in danger.”

The protest was launched by the collective La Santé en Lutte, which has been an outspoken critic of the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

“It’s Maggie De Block, the [current] government and the previous government who, little by little, have eroded the public health sector with austerity measures,” Denis Huart of La Santé en Lutte told LN24.

Early on in the pandemic, the collective denounced the fact that Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès was steering Belgium’s response to the crisis even as she cut €900 million from social security’s coffers in her previous position as federal budget minister.

Huart said that the pressures brought on by the policy of austerity led health care workers to “work fast” and “work badly.”

All demonstrators wore a face mask during the protest, which De Standaard reports not authorised but which was tolerated by police.

Gabriela Galindo
The Brussels Times