The Romanian Health Crisis
As we enter the second winter characterised by the Coronavirus pandemic, the European continent is divided in two. On one side, East Europe has seen a dramatic increase in cases and casualties, with some states greatly lagging behind the region's average vaccination rate. On the other side, West Europe is uncertainly looking at its counterpart while at the same time fearing a surge of the virus’ spread. Indeed, recently Western Europe has also experienced a steady rise in Covid19 cases, with Belgium and Ireland suffering from the highest case rates.
As the Coronavirus incidence increases, several Eastern European nations are once more imposing restrictions, such as mandatory face-masks and working from home. Romania is one of those countries whose epidemiological situation is getting out of control. With over 750 daily new cases per million people, Romania has the highest average of cases not only in Europe but in the world. The new wave of the disease has exposed the weak national health system and the fault lines within the political leadership and institutions. Ultimately, the government was not able to oppose fake news and unfounded claims about the vaccine to run a successful vaccination campaign meant to slow down the circulation of the virus.
In the past weeks, Romania has experienced a sharp growth of infections, with record-highs of almost 16.000 new cases and close to 600 casualties per day. Daniel Coriu, the chair of the Romanian College of Physicians, has said the state is “not in a pandemic” but “in a disaster”. This situation is also the result of the extremely low Romanian vaccination rate, with only 35% of adults having received the two doses – far from the European average of 74%. Several complain that the current circumstances could have been prevented. Indeed, Minister Raed Arafat said that Romania is “in this situation while having the vaccine, because the majority of us refused to get inoculated. This situation could have been avoided”.
The political leadership and the doctors have accused fake news and disinformation of being the cause of the slow vaccine rollout. Indeed, Andrei Baciu, the Secretary of State at Romania's health ministry, has indicated that the inoculation rate was especially low in the rural areas, where almost half of the population lives. One of the main causes for such an unsatisfactory shots program was the widespread scepticism and disinformation, that lead the Romanian Secretary of State to affirm that “(C)ombating misinformation is certainly a challenge that we are trying to overcome in partnership with experts from WHO, UNICEF, and the EU”. However, the failure of the campaign does not only involve the Romanian’s distrust for the medicine but it has more complex causes linked to entrenched societal explanations. According to Dr Sandesc, the vice-chairman of the Romanian Society of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care, the drug rollout “is a national failure on all levels. We are witnessing a kind of national blindness, caused by the lack of education, by the lack of civilisation”. Inadequate governmental communication, a fragile health system, disinformation, and corruption seem to be at the root of such a medical disappointment. Recently, the belief that the vaccine would turn people into zombies made the news in the city of Botosani. Such absurd ideas are also sustained by the Romanian Orthodox Church which is an important pillar of society, particularly in the provincial areas. Finally, another element that contributed to the vaccine reluctance has roots dating back to the Soviet era. Indeed, because of diffuse corruption and political instability, Romanians are wary of governments and their decrees.
Nonetheless, as opposed to a few months ago, Romanians appear to receive the shot more willingly, slowly catching up with the other European countries’ vaccination rate. The Secretary of State has confirmed this trend saying that “people who are aware of the benefits of vaccination did not see the danger of imminent infection, a danger that unfortunately has now reappeared and with the recurrence of the danger, obviously, all those who are aware of the protective effects of the vaccine decide to get vaccinated with impressive numbers, as we see in the latest records”.
To face the unprecedented situation, Bucharest has asked for the European Union’s assistance and has activated the European Civil Protection Mechanism, a program meant to reinforce cooperation among the continent's states to face emergencies. Numerous nations, such as Austria, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Poland answered Romania’s solicitation, supplying the country with medical equipment and ventilators.
As a consequence of the rampant Covid19 cases, Romania’s interim government has been forced to reintroduce restrictions to limit the circulation of the virus. Some of these measures include the reintroduction of a curfew, mandatory face masks, and leisure activities places opened only to people with the Coronavirus pass. However, despite the imposition of new rules, it is unlikely that the crisis will slow down instantly. Instead, according to experts, the health emergency is far from over and the cases and casualties are expected to increase before slowly dropping.
Written by Cinzia Saro
Cinzia Saro is a columnist at DecipherGrey.
Photograph: Cristian Iohan Ştefănescu | Flickr.com