Romania records more than 1,000 daily COVID-19 cases for first time ever

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

Romania recorded for the first time ever more than 1,000 coronavirus infections in a 24-hour interval.

By noon on Wednesday, 1,030 people were tested positive for the virus within the past 24 hours, according to data released by public health authorities, while 372 others had tested positive in a test repeat.

Following the spread in recent weeks and with a new law on quarantine adopted last week, the government decided Wednesday to lock down two localities where COVID-19 outbreaks were reported.

The week before, the Romanian government extended the state of alert for 30 more days starting 17 July, as the number of new coronavirus infections continued to increase, with 777 people testing positive for the virus on 16 July.

The same day, the parliament finally adopted a law regarding quarantine and isolation of patients during an epidemic, after the Constitutional Court ruled a few weeks ago that the rules enforced by the government to contain the COVID-19 epidemic were against the Constitution. However, it will take at least a week until the law enters into force, due to procedural reasons.

After reporting 413 new coronavirus cases on Monday (13 July), Romania recorded 637 new cases and 30 new deaths due to the COVID-19 the following day (14 July). On the other hand, more than 21,800 patients recovered and hospitals also discharged almost 2,000 people that tested positive but showed no symptoms.

A week before, Romania recorded 555 new daily cases on 8 July and more than 600 daily cases the following day (9 July), public authorities confirmed.

As the number of active cases had almost reached its highest level with 8,000 that week since the start of the pandemic with the number of patients in intensive care units growing steadily, authorities were almost out of ‘weapons’ to fight a potential second wave of infections. The previous peak was reached on 11 April (523 new cases), but then the country”s testing capacity was considerably lower than on Wednesday.

At the same time, after a Constitutional Court decision from last week, authorities can no longer force sick or suspected people to quarantine.

The Constitutional Court decided the government is not allowed to force people into isolation or to undergo quarantine if they are suspected of being infected with the coronavirus.

Following the decision, the government rushed to draft a normative act on Monday (6 July) to define the quarantine and other rules for containing highly infectious diseases.

The draft was sent to parliament for emergency debates, but Romania currently has no legal basis to require the isolation of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients.

As a result of the Constitutional Court decision, some 550 people have left hospitals within a day, health minister Nelu Tataru said Monday.

Meanwhile, Romania’s government presented a massive plan of investments and other measures to relaunch the economy on Wednesday (1 July).

The plan includes investments of more than €100 billion over the next decade in transport infrastructure, healthcare, education or its energy systems, but it gives no clear timeline and the financing sources are rarely mentioned.

Most of the projects are ideas floated by several governments over the years – such as building tens of new hospitals, renovating thousands of schools or building a vast network of highways – but it gives no clear solution as to how the errors of the past can be solved and accelerate the pace of investment.

As of Thursday (23 July), Romania registered a total of 41,275 coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, of which 2,126 people died, while close to 25,000 recovered. 

When it comes to COVID-19 related deaths, Romania reported 36 new deaths of the total 2,074 on Tuesday (21 July). This is the country’s second highest daily death toll, and the largest since mid-April at the height of the pandemic.

 Extending restrictions

A new round of restrictions that were planned to be lifted on 1 July will stay in place as the number of COVID-19 cases grew in the past few weeks.

Moreover, authorities announced new restrictions could be introduced if new outbreaks crop up in touristic areas such as the Prahova Valley in the Carpathians or the Black Sea coast.

Already on 25 June, Romanian public health authorities had announced that 460 new coronavirus infections were reported in the previous 24 hours, the largest number of new cases registered in a single day since 22 April.

Meanwhile, Romania’s government extended the state of alert by 30 days as of Wednesday (17 June), but some of the restrictions applied so far can now be lifted.

Church services are now permitted indoors while respecting social distancing rules, and kindergartens, child daycare facilities and after-schools can restart their operations. Also, malls are reopening, and people can now go back to fitness and sports centres. However, theatres and cinemas remain closed, and restaurants can serve meals only on terraces.

Prime Minister Ludovic Orban confirmed the government will adopt on Tuesday (16 June) a draft law calling for the extension of the state of alert by 30 days, but MPs are not on the same page.

PSD, the socialist party with the most MPs in parliament, wants an extension of just 15 days, and also calls for the lift of additional restrictions to what the government has proposed, such as allowing church services inside and the opening of theatres. Other parties said they would vote against any extension.

While malls opened on Monday (15 June) like restaurants, cafes and cinemas in shopping centres remained closed, betting sites, outdoor pools and balneary facilities are now allowed to operate, and some private events may also be organised. 

That same day (15 June), the number of new infections fell to 166, from 320 reported the day before with only 3,700 tests in 24 hours compared to the previous 10,000 average.

As of next week, kindergartens, schools and child daycare facilities could be opened.

President Klaus Iohannis proposed to extend the state of alert after 15 June and called for the lifting of some restrictions because the downward trend in cases is not linear.

Prime Minister Ludovic Orban also chimed in on 10 June and urged MPs to vote for the extension of the state of alert that expires on 15 June to allow authorities to intervene in stopping the spread of COVID-19. Complete relaxation of restrictions would lead to an increase in coronavirus infections, Orban added.

Even after the head of the emergency services discussed with political leaders in parliament on Wednesday (10 June), most parties were against a prolongation of the state of alert at national level and are asking for a solution for the most affected regions.

On Tuesday (9 June), the head of the emergency services said that while restrictions will be lifted on 15 June, people will not be returning to their pre-COVID normal life.

Raed Arafat, the head of the emergency situation department, said the pandemic situation is not stable, there are still some outbreaks, and there were days with increases in the number of new cases, and a decision on prolonging the state of alert will be made at the end of the week.

Days after some restrictions were lifted, the number of daily new COVID-19 infections went up to 283 on 4 June. Authorities warned the population to continue respecting social distancing and hygiene measures. On 10 June, there were 196 new cases in the last 24 hours.

Continued easing of 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 stay in place.

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.

However, Romania switching to a state of alert may have been illegally enforced, because of the procedural gap between the last day of the state of emergency on 14 May and the state of alert enforcement date of 18 May.

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

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.

Life after lockdown 

In April, 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 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 and can only return to school in September. 

The mandatory wearing of protective masks in closed public areas and on public transport could stay in force until the end of 2020, the president said.

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 could 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 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.

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 went on during the state of emergency in Romania:

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Travel restrictions 

Public health authorities announced a list of 17 European countries from which citizens may return without the need to stay in isolation after arriving in Romania.

The list includes Greece and Bulgaria, two popular destinations for summer holidays, but notably excludes Italy and Spain, home to the largest Romanian migrant populations, and two of the hardest-coronavirus-hit countries. Flights to and from the 17 countries are set to resume on 15 June, the authorities said, adding that the list will be updated weekly.

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

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 limits.

For instance, 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.

The authorities then went on to put Tandarei under lockdown as well on 4 April, 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

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 has a budget of 8 billion lei (about €1.65 billion) and that it will leverage 28 billion lei of investments.

During the country’s state of emergency, Romania 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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