Nearly 4,000 healthcare workers took to the streets in Brussels to demonstrate against the mandatory Covid-19 vaccination for their sector.
The demonstration was organised by the joint trade union front from Brussels and Wallonia and comes after a week of mobilisation for the cabinet of Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke.
The number of protesters present was estimated at some 3,800, according to Brussels police spokesperson Ilse Van de keere, who confirmed to the Belga News Agency that no arrests were made.
The march started around 10:30 AM at Bruxelles Chapelle, and moved to the Arts-Loi intersection and the Vandenbroucke's office, where some people tried to force their way inside; the police responded with tear gas.
The protestors opposed the mandatory vaccination of healthcare personnel that will be in place as of 1 January, with a transition period until 1 April. From then on, non-vaccinated staff members can be fired.
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Many demonstrators carried signs and banners warning of even more staff shortages in healthcare if vaccination becomes compulsory, with slogans like "Save our health care instead of laying off workers," "My body, my choice," and "SOS."
Last month, the Federal core cabinet agreed on regulations for the vaccination obligation in the care sector: as of 1 January, healthcare staff will have three months to get vaccinated. Those who refuse to do so will be fired and receive full unemployment benefits immediately, or suspended without pay.
Unions, however, fear that the obligation will only exacerbate the already existing staff shortages in the sector. "Penalising those who are not vaccinated will increase the shortages to the point that healthcare in our country will be in jeopardy," union secretary Olivier Nyssen said.