Romania is tightening pandemic measures in the midst of the COVID-19 increase

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) – Tighter pandemic measures came into force in Romania on Saturday as authorities hoped to curb …

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) – Tighter pandemic measures came into force in Romania on Saturday as authorities hoped to curb sharply rising coronavirus cases amid concerns that the next wave of viruses could overload the country’s healthcare system.

In mid-December, Romania reported fewer than a thousand COVID-19 infections a day, but over the past week, daily cases have risen to around 6,000. This is the highest number of infections since the beginning of November, when cases were declining after a vicious fourth wave of viruses.

During the winter holiday period, hundreds of thousands of Romanians return home from other countries, many from the West, fueling concern over the threat posed by the rapidly spreading omicron variant. Romania has so far confirmed almost 300 cases of the new variant.

Health Minister Alexandru Rafila said in a press briefing on Friday that Romania “is already in the fifth wave of the pandemic” and that omicron is soon expected to become the dominant virus strain.

“Currently, there is an occasional transmission (by omicron),” he said. “But it is very possible that in the coming days, the coming weeks, we will witness a societal transfer supported by this new tribe.”

The new measures Saturday include mandatory use of face masks in outdoor and indoor public spaces, and textile masks have been banned. Failure to comply with the mask rules could result in large fines of up to 500 euros ($ 567), authorities said.

Bars and restaurants can stay open until 22.00 and operate with 50% or 30% capacity depending on the area’s infection rate, and COVID-19 passports are required. The same goes for sporting events, gyms and cinemas. Meanwhile, quarantine and isolation periods have been reduced.

Octavian Jurma, a physician and health statistician, said the new pandemic measures are “mostly cosmetic” and compared them to “giving aspirin to a cancer patient.”

“These measures were never intended to limit the pandemic, but to create an illusion, they are doing something more than in the delta wave,” Jurma told the Associated Press. “We have a perfect storm on the way in Romania … we will again see a record number of hospital admissions, intensive care unit admissions and deaths.”

Throughout October and November, Romania recorded pandemic heights of COVID-19 infections and deaths and at one point had the highest mortality worldwide. The situation paralyzed the country’s aging health system.

Romania, an EU country of around 19.5 million, is the bloc’s second lowest vaccinated nation against COVID-19, with only 40% fully vaccinated. Experts blame widespread disinformation, strong distrust of government officials and an ineffective national campaign among the reasons for the hesitation with vaccines.

“I’m not sure the pandemic is manageable in Romania anymore, as the Negationists have clearly won the ‘hearts and minds’ war,” Jurma said.


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