BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Around 4,000 health workers demonstrated in Brussels on Sunday, calling for more spending on the healthcare system in a country that was badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
With political parties in Belgium still struggling to form a permanent government more than a year after a national election, the workers - who wore masks and carried banners with slogans such as "take care of the careworkers" - called on politicians to increase pay and healthcare funding.
"We came here in Brussels to demonstrate and demand more respect for our job and a pay rise," said one protester who gave her name only as Marie-Stella and who has worked as a nurse since 1988.
"I would like to be given the means to give high-quality and humane care. And for that, we need financial means," said Claudine, a psychiatric nurse.
Police estimated around 4,000 people took part in the protest.
The event was organised by health workers group La Santé en Lutte, who demand an end to the "commodification of care" and say the coronavirus crisis has exposed the fragility of Belgium's healthcare system, including a lack of adequate protection for staff and enough testing for the virus.
Belgium has reported 9,923 fatalities from COVID-19, which puts it the third-highest in the world for deaths per 100,000 people - behind the tiny city state of San Marino and Peru. The government has said the high rate is explained by its decision to include in its tally deaths where COVID-19 is only suspected, not confirmed.
(Reporting by Johanna Geron; Writing by Kate Abnett; Editing by Frances Kerry)