COVID-19 Over half a million Pfizer BioNTech vaccine doses reach Romania today, after nearly 4 million other doses received so far from the American-German producer. Since the start of the vaccine rollout in Romania on December 27, over 2.6 million people have been immunised, 1.6 million of them having also received the booster dose. Romania currently uses Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines. Meanwhile, 2,265 new COVID-19 cases were reported yesterday, out of almost 19,500 tests. This is the lowest number in the last 7 weeks. The authorities also announced 160 COVID-related deaths in 24 hours, and 1,475 patients are currently in intensive care. Again, the largest number of cases were reported in Bucharest, and the highest infection rates are registered in Ilfov County (south-east), followed by the capital and Cluj County in the centre-west, each with over 5 infections per thousand for 14-day periods. Another 7 counties are also in the red zone, with over 3 infections per thousand inhabitants.
GOVERMENT The right-of-centre coalition in power in Romania, comprising the National Liberal Party, the USR/Plus party and the Democratic Union of Ethnic Hungarians, convene for the first meeting since the health minister Vlad Voiculescu from USR/Plus was dismissed last week. The USR/Plus leaders criticised the Liberal PM Florin Cîţu’s decision to oust Voiculescu, and requested an emergency coalition meeting to discuss withdrawing political support to the PM. In turn, the leaders of the other 2 parties in the coalition have reiterated their support for Florin Cîţu and underscored that USR/Plus must come up with a new nomination for health minister. On Friday, in a press conference after his dismissal, Vlad Voiculescu made serious accusations against the PM and other Liberal leaders. He claimed that he had uncovered vulnerabilities in the system, which prove the central and local authorities’ inability to handle the pandemic, accused PM Cîţu of disinterest and complained of lack of dialogue on the problems in the healthcare system.
DIPLOMACY The EU foreign ministers are holding an online meeting today to discuss the latest tensions between Russia and the Czech Republic. Prague accused Moscow of being involved in a 2014 blast at a Czech weapon storage facility. The Russian foreign minister dismissed the accusation as ungrounded and absurd. On Saturday the Czech Republic expelled 18 Russian Embassy staff accused of espionage related to the blast. In turn, Moscow announced on Sunday that 20 Czech Embassy staff are personae non-gratae and have to leave Russia. The EU foreign ministers are also to discuss today the case of Russian dissident Aleksei Navalny, currently detained in Russia. Germany and France asked Russian authorities to provide medical care to Kremlin’s leading critic, whose health is deteriorating steadily. The White House warned that Russia would face consequences if Aleksei Navalny died in prison. The situation in Ukraine will also be on the agenda of today’s meeting. The head of Romania’s diplomacy Bogdan Aurescu will highlight Romania’s support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of neighbouring Ukraine, and will voice the country’s concern with Russia’s deploying troops and military equipment in Crimea, at Ukraine’s eastern border and in the Black Sea region.
NASA The American space agency NASA today makes the first attempt at powered, controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet. The nearly 2-kilo Ingenuity helicopter will attempt to rise 3 m above the surface of Mars, and to stay there for 30 seconds before returning. The main challenge is that the Martian atmosphere is just 1% as dense as Earth’s at the surface, which gives the drone’s rotors little to lift on. This is why the vehicle had to be very light and compact. The rover Perseverance will send confirmation photos to Earth.
PANDEMIC The total number of COVID-19 infections worldwide is now over 142 million, with 120 million patients recovered and 3 million dead, according to the latest worldometers.info updates. As of today, in Italy, only 3 out of 20 provinces remain in the red zone, with the toughest restrictions. The others are included in the orange zone, but many will be rated as yellow zone as of next week, allowing the reopening of restaurants and resuming travels from one region to another. As of today, 7 million children in Italy return to schools after over a year of absence. Meanwhile, UK reports decreases both in terms of COVID-related deaths and in terms of infections, and the number of people getting vaccines every 24 hours has reached 600,000. In Israel, mass vaccination led to the almost complete reopening of the economy. The infection rate has been staying very low for over a week. Israeli citizens are no longer bound to wear face covering outdoor, and school activities are back to normal. Across the ocean, over half of the total number of adults in the US have received at least a first dose of anti-COVID vaccine. (tr. A.M. Popescu)