Romania steps up pandemic measures amid COVID-19 outbreak

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) – Stricter pandemic measures took effect in Romania on Saturday as authorities hoped to quell the sharp rise in coronavirus cases, fearing the next wave of the virus could overload the country’s health system.

As of mid-December, Romania was reporting less than a thousand COVID-19 infections per day, but over the past week the number of daily cases has risen to around 6,000. That is the number. the highest in infections since early November, when cases were down following a vicious fourth wave of the virus.

During the winter break period, hundreds of thousands of Romanians return to their homes from other countries, many of them westerners, which has fueled concerns about the threat of the rapidly spreading variant of omicron. . Romania has so far confirmed nearly 300 cases of the new variant.

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

“At the moment there is sporadic transmission (of omicron),” he said. “But it is very possible that in the next few days, the next few weeks, we will see community transmission supported by this new strain.”

The new measures on Saturday include the mandatory wearing of face masks in outdoor and indoor public spaces, and textile masks were banned. Failure to follow mask rules could result in hefty fines of up to 500 euros ($ 567), authorities said.

Bars and restaurants can stay open until 10 p.m. and operate at 50% or 30% of capacity depending on the infection rate in the area, and COVID-19 passes are required. The same goes for sporting events, gyms and cinemas. Meanwhile, the quarantine and isolation periods have been reduced.

Octavian Jurma, doctor and health care 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 the illusion that they are doing something more than in the delta wave,” Jurma told The Associated Press. “We have a perfect storm lined up in Romania… we will again see a record number of hospitalizations, intensive care admissions and deaths.”

In October and November, Romania recorded pandemic peaks in infections and deaths from COVID-19, and at one point had the highest death rate in the world. The situation crippled the country’s aging healthcare system.

Romania, a European Union country of around 19.5 million inhabitants, is the second country in the bloc least vaccinated against COVID-19, with only 40% fully vaccinated. Experts blame widespread disinformation, strong mistrust of government authorities and an ineffective national campaign among the reasons for reluctance to immunize.

“I am not sure that the pandemic is more manageable in Romania since the deniers have clearly won the war of hearts and minds,” Jurma said.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the coronavirus pandemic: https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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