BRUSSELS (AP) – Thousands of Belgian healthcare workers gathered in Brussels on Tuesday to oppose mandatory COVID-19 vaccines and to demand better working conditions as the rise in the number of new cases weighs in heavily on hospitals.
About 4,000 people – some with signs saying “Save your nurse, one day she will be the one to save you” or “My body, my choice” – took part in the march, according to police in the Belgian capital.
The loud rally ended in front of the Belgian Ministry of Health, where police at one point used pepper spray to ward off some protesters. There were no reports of injuries.
From January 1, healthcare workers in Belgium will have a three-month window to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Those who are not vaccinated will be informed that their contracts will be suspended, unless they provide a certificate proving their recovery from COVID-19 or a recent negative test.
From April, those who did not have a valid justification for refusing to comply could be dismissed. By some estimates, around 60,000 health workers across the country of 11.5 million people are not vaccinated against COVID-19.
“I think everyone should have a choice,” Virginie Virginie, a medical assistant from the Namur region in southern Belgium, who declined to give her full name, told The Associated Press. “If we get rid of unvaccinated staff, we’ll never get there. It’s hard enough.
Belgium has reported an average of 17,000 new cases daily over the past week and around 300 people have been admitted to hospitals every day. As of Monday, 816 people were in intensive care, a 7% increase from the previous seven days.
“It’s tense and complicated,” said Benjamin D’Heur, a nurse from the city of Liège.
“There is COVID, on the one hand, with people literally between life and death. The intensive care units are full, ”he said. “And there’s the burnout that we hear about and see more and more. People are exhausted or on sick leave, and who can blame them. The government needs to do something about it.
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The Associated Press