BRUSSELS (AFP) - Staff at a Brussels hospital gave Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes a frosty reception, turning their backs on her as she visited the frontline of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Nurses and other staff lined up at the entrance of the Saint Pierre hospital in Brussels as Wilmes arrived on Saturday (May 16) and pointedly turned away as her official car drew up.
They were protesting about under-resourcing in hospitals and against official decrees that could compel them to work if the virus crisis demands it, Belgian media reported.
"Politicians constantly turn their backs on our appeals for help," one protesting nurse, speaking anonymously, told the RTBF broadcaster.
"The teams are under-staffed and the burnout rates show it. We want the profession to be valued properly."
A spokesman for Wilmes said she had spoken for 40 minutes with representatives of the protesting staff, and that the atmosphere inside the hospital had been more cordial.
Wilmes tweeted that meeting and talking to the hospital staff had been an "important moment".
"The health situation, protection, mental strain, respect for the profession, financing of healthcare - nothing was off limits," she tweeted.
Belgium has been hit hard by the pandemic, with one of the world's highest per capita death tolls, though the virus appears to be easing and lockdown restrictions are starting to be lifted.
According to the latest official figures released Sunday, Belgium - which has a population of around 11.5 million - has recorded 55,280 confirmed cases of Covid-19, and 9,052 deaths.