Romania sees new COVID-19 infections spike days after some restrictions were lifted

The EURACTIV Network provides you with the latest news on how the country is dealing with the coronavirus health crisis. [Shutterstock]

**This article is continuously updated with the latest developments.

Days after some restrictions were lifted, the number of daily new COVID-19 infections went up to 283 on Thursday (4 June). Authorities warned the population to continue respecting social distancing and hygiene measures.

However, Romania plans to lift some more restrictions on 15 June, Health Minister Nelu Tataru told the national television TVR on Tuesday (2 June).

Malls could be allowed to open, but in several steps – first the stores, then the food courts and lastly the playgrounds. Also, private kindergartens and after school care could be allowed to operate during the summer.

Meanwhile, the government adopted a programme to support large companies affected by the coronavirus crisis, a few weeks after the introduction of a similar program for SMEs.

The scheme includes guarantees for loans, direct support from the government for investment or working capital and de minimis aid for banking loans. Finance Minister Florin Citu said the programme, which should be operational within a month, has a budget of 8 billion lei (about €1.65 billion) and that it will leverage 28 billion lei of investments.

As of Friday (5 June), Romania reported 20,103 COVID-19 cases, which is 238 more than the day before. It also reported 14,145 recoveries and 1,308 deaths.

Romania’s health ministry finalised a methodology on 23 April for collecting, testing, processing, storing and distributing the plasma collected from recovered COVID-19 patients, which will be used to treat critically ill patients, according to the Romanian transfusion legislation and the EU technical guide that addresses this issue.

Lifting more restrictions

The Romanian government decided on 28 May evening to lift a new batch of restrictions as of 1 June.

Not only will sports competitions resume but without spectators, cultural events, shows and concerts can also be organised as long as they are outdoors, with a maximum of 500 people in attendance. Attendees will also have to be seated, two metres apart and wearing masks.

As people will be able to freely travel between localities, outdoor terraces and beaches may also be opened as of 1 June, but social distancing measures are to be applied.

On 24 May, Secretary of State for Health, Horatiu Moldovan, said that the country will test about 30,000 people to check the population immunity to the new coronavirus after the peak of the epidemic.

Moldovan said Romania reached a high enough testing capacity – of between 9,000 and 11,000 tests per day – adding there is no need for more than 15,000 tests in a day. Since the debut of the COVID-19 epidemic, around 368,500 tests were performed in Romania.

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Romania switches from state of emergency to ‘state of alert’

As of 15 May, Romania has been under a state of alert, which replaced the state of emergency after two months, with fewer restrictions, but the media has already reported many cases of ignoring the rules.

During this phase, people will be able to travel more freely as they can leave towns for a stated reason, but eating out in a restaurant, for example, remains forbidden

Smaller shopping centres and hotels are also now permitted to open, while dentist offices and hairdressers will have to strict measures of social distancing if they decide to operate.

However, Romania switching to a state of alert may even have been illegally enforced. On Thursday (14 May) was supposed to be the last day of the state of emergency and there was a great deal of expectation about what would happen until 18 May.

On 10 April, Tataru had said that while the peak of the pandemic was set for 20- 25 April, cases would start declining by mid-May.

That is because a so-called ‘state of alert’ – for which a draft law was debated on 12 May by parliament – is supposed to follow after the state of emergency. However, this cannot be enforced earlier than 18 May, due to procedural reasons, meaning, Romania could, at least theoretically, stay restriction-free over the weekend.

On 9 May, however, the government published the rules to be observed after 15 May, during the first phase of lifting restrictions. once it starts lifting restrictions during the first phase.

During that phase, not only will wearing protection masks become mandatory in all closed public spaces and on public transport, but hotels will be able to reopen as long as their restaurants, cafes, playgrounds and fitness centres remain closed. Hotels will still be allowed to serve food as part of room service, however. Besides, it was also decided that hairdressers, barbershops and dentist offices could open as long as they observe special disinfection procedures and only let patients and customers enter with an appointment.

Just before the guidelines were published, Prime Minister Ludovic Orban had said that hotels could reopen “as of now” after journalists had pointed to there being no point in opening hotels because of the significant restrictions on people’s movement. 

Life after lockdown 

President Klaus Iohannis told journalists that even after measures are lifted, life will not return to pre-COVID norms.

The president told a news conference on 28 April that “we may still meet three people at most, we won’t leave town without serious reasons, we won’t go to restaurants.”

The president also noted that festivals will probably not be held this year, while sports competitions will be organised without people in attendance.

The country would lift restrictions step by step, with careful analysis, and if the number of infection rises after a measure is cancelled, it could be reintroduced, the president said,.

He added that the general elections due in November wouldn’t even take place this year if this was deemed unsafe. June’s local elections, for instance, will not be held.

Only students in their final years, such as eighth and twelfth grade, will have to return to school to prepare for their exams for two weeks. They will have to wear masks and attend classes with no more than ten people to ensure social distancing. Others will have to continue attending their courses online as they can only return to school in September. 

Besides, protective masks will continue being mandatory in closed public areas and on public transport and the restriction could last until the end of 2020, the president said. However, although public gatherings will still be banned during the lifting phase, Romanians will not have to declare where they are going when going out in public.

Read more about how things could look like after the lockdown:

A targeted medical sector  

Under the state of emergency declared on 16 March, the government can commandeer production facilities for medical equipment, cap prices for utilities and fuels, or adopt measures to help companies and employees affected by the crisis.

Other measures are intended to facilitate the hiring of medical personal, the acquisitions of medicine and equipment and the increase of the healthcare budget. 

In terms of funding, the European Commission signed an agreement with the Romanian emergency services for a €10 million grant to stockpile medical resources. 

Romania has used EU grants to send 90,000 FFP2 masks to Milan, as well as a team of doctors and nurses to help Italian medical staff for two weeks at the beginning of April.

Meanwhile, health professionals back home have been infected with COVID-19 and the government estimated at the start of April that about 75,000 medical staff could get in contact with coronavirus in the coming months.

On top of that, a few have also been the subject of unfair treatment and bullying across the country. A doctor claimed he was thrown out of his apartment, while nurses in several hospitals claimed to have been bullied by neighbours because they work in hospitals that treat coronavirus patients. Following these reports, the College of Physicians in Bucharest asked the authorities to provide accommodation for medical staff that treat COVID-19 patients.

More on the country’s medical sector can be found here:

State of emergency rundown

After first declaring a state emergency on 16 March, President Klaus Iohannis signed a decree to extend the state of emergency from 15 April to last another 30 days, which parliament approved on 16 April.

While the country introduced “recommendations” on 22 March, these were made mandatory as of 25 March, the president said on 24 March. From 25 March onwards, people were to stay confined in their homes unless they had to go to work, leave the home for medical reasons, shop for essential or help family members in need. People over 65, however, were not allowed to leave their homes. The military would help the police with enforcing these restrictions, the president added. 

The much-awaited Easter holidays caused a few issues for the country.

While authorities had announced that open-air markets would be open for the holiday season as long as these respected social-distancing measures and safety regulations, the president urged the population on 15 April to “stay at home! Or else we will have funerals after the holidays.”

Later that evening, however, Internal Affairs Minister Marcel Vela had announced a partnership with the Orthodox Church, allowing worshippers to go to churches between designated times and involve police forces delivering the Holy Fire on Easter night, prompting social media backlash. 

The president publicly then asked the PM and his minister to reconsider the agreement after Vela claimed he had discussed the measure with the PM and the president.

Vela reconsidered the agreement, following which police forces no longer took part in the distribution of the Holy Fire on Easter night. Instead, this was performed by the clergy and groups of volunteers.

Read more about what on during the state of emergency in Romania:

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Travel restrictions 

When it came to travel outside the country, the government had, as of 5 April, suspended flying between Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands, but also with the UK, the US, Turkey and Iran.

While flights to and from Italy, Spain, Germany and France were already suspended, charter flights carrying seasonal workers from Romania are allowed, provided they are authorised by destination countries.

Although flights to Spain were banned until 11 May, all other flight bans were kept until 14 May.

Romania also suspended road transport for people for all destinations in Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands, UK, and Turkey for the whole state of emergency period.

Even, within the country, some areas were off bounds.

For instance, authorities put the northeastern Romanian city of Suceava was the first city to have been put under total quarantine on 30 March given that, at the time, it had more than one-quarter of the country’s coronavirus cases following an outbreak in a county hospital which had more than 100 personnel test positive for the virus.

On 4 April, the authorities then went on to put Tandarei on lockdown, banning the movement of people and goods, except for transport to local factories and essential supplies.

For more on the Romanian government’s measures at its border:

Economic measures

During the country’s state of emergency, Romania banned Romania also banned the export of cereals and wheat products, as well as the sale of majority stakes in energy companies.

The Romanian economy is expected to contract by 5% and unemployment to jump to 10.1% in 2020, according to the IMF, but growth should rebound to 3.9% in 2021.

Labour ministry data shows that more than 200,000 labour contracts have been terminated since the outbreak and that of Romania’s 9 million active population, more than 1 million contracts have been suspended.

For more of the country’s economic measures, read on:

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