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Romania tightens pandemic measures amid COVID-19 surge

BUCHAREST, ROMANIA (AP) – Tighter pandemic measures came into force in Romania yesterday as authorities hoped to quell sharply rising coronavirus cases amid concerns that the next virus wave could overstretch the country’s health care system.

In mid-December, Romania was reporting fewer than a thousand COVID-19 infections a day, but over the past week, daily cases have surged to around 6,000.

It is the highest number of infections since early November when cases were on the decline following a vicious fourth virus wave.

Over the winter holiday period, hundreds of thousands of Romanians return home from other countries, many from the West, which fueled concerns over the threat of the fast-spreading Omicron variant. Romania has so far confirmed almost 300 cases of the new variant.

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

“For the time being, there is a sporadic transmission (of Omicron),” he said. “But it is very possible that in the coming days, the coming weeks, we will witness a community transmission supported by this new strain.”

The new measures yesterday include the mandatory wearing of face masks in outdoor and indoor public spaces, and textile masks have been banned.

Non-compliance with mask rules could result in hefty fines of up to EUR500, authorities said.

Establishments can stay open until 10pm and operate at 50 per cent or 30 per cent capacity depending on the area’s infection rate, and COVID-19 passes are required. The same goes for sporting events, gyms, and cinemas.

Meanwhile, quarantine and isolation periods have been reduced.

Through October and November, Romania recorded pandemic highs of COVID-19 infections and deaths, and at one time had the highest mortality rate globally.

Romania, a European Union country of around 19.5 million, is the bloc’s second-lowest vaccinated nation against COVID-19, with just 40 per cent fully vaccinated. Experts blame widespread disinformation, a strong distrust of government authorities and an ineffective national campaign.

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