Doctors and nurses turn their backs on prime minister during hospital visit

In a powerful display of anger, frontline healthcare workers in Belgium have turned their backs on the country’s leader.

Staff at Saint-Pierre Hospital in Brussels choreographed a united display of dissent during an official visit from Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès on the weekend.

Doctors and nurses stood on both sides of the road leading into the hospital’s main entrance. As the prime minister’s car drove in, one-by-one the healthcare workers turned their back on the national leader.

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Healthcare workers showed their disapproval for the Prime Minister during her visit. Source: Reuters/Twitter

The protest was in response to anger over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic which has seen the government heavily criticised for the nation’s high mortality rate.

By the official numbers, Belgium has been the worst hit country in the world, on a per capita basis.

The country of just 11.5 million people has experienced a mortality rate of 78.8 deaths per 100,000 people, according to rolling data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Comparatively, Spain has a mortality rate of 59, Italy has a mortality of 52.5 and the UK of 51.9 per 100,000 people.

While the the United States by far has the most known cases and deaths, it currently has an official mortality rate of 27 deaths per 100,000 people.

Australia has just 0.39 deaths per 100,000, according to the mortality analysis by the university.

By any metric, Belgium has not fared well in the pandemic. Above is the observed case-fatality ratio. Source: Johns Hopkins

While Belgium is doing the most comprehensive and inclusive counting of any country when it comes to its coronavirus death tally, health officials have had to acknowledge mistakes were made at the beginning of the outbreak.

As the virus swept through Europe, poor preparation left workers at aged care facilities in Belgium lacking personal protective equipment, which is believed to have helped enable the virus to spread so quickly.

Belgian healthcare workers are reportedly calling for extra staff, higher wages and the end of the cuts in the sector. The stunt was also an expression of anger about rules that made it possible for hospital staff to be forced to show up for work during the pandemic.

Belgium’s COVID-19 death toll may be over-reported

Footage of the protest for health workers has since gone viral, described online as a “powerful message”.

Taking to Twitter following the hospital visit, as well as another hospital she toured, the Belgian prime minister described the visits as “important moments of meeting and dialogue for both the nursing staff and me”.

Ms Wilmès has previously suggested that Belgium may be over-reporting the actual number of cases.

According to the latest figures, the relatively small European country has recorded 9,052 deaths from the coronavirus, of which about 40 percent are “possible cases” that were not confirmed by tests.

According to Belgium’s figures, half the country’s deaths have come in nursing homes but most of those did not include a test for COVID-19.

The Belgian PM says the country wants to get the truest picture of the coronavirus crisis in the country.

That method of counting is at odds with the figures collected in a majority of other countries which have not included probable cases. For instance, the top infectious disease expert in the US, Dr Anthony Fauci, said last week the number of coronavirus deaths in the United States was “almost certainly higher” than official figures.

Economists and epidemiologists have begun to favour “excess death” tallies to understand the true impact of the pandemic on different countries – a method that puts the UK, Spain, Belgium, Italy and parts of the US as the worst affected nations to date.

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