PRESIDENCY Reforms can no longer be put off, 2021 is an important year for Romania’s development, the year when we must lay the foundations of a healthy resetting of our society, president Klaus Iohannis said on Tuesday in his first press conference this year. He emphasized that the COVID-19 epidemic must be curbed and all economic sectors need a restart. According to the president, the resetting of the state must begin this year, and must focus on citizens’ access to public services and information, on digitisation and cutting red-tape at all levels. If we are to move on at full speed, we must end the epidemic, and mass vaccination is the only solution for us to return to normal as soon as possible, Klaus Iohannis added. He said he will get the vaccine on January 15, when the second stage of the national immunisation programme begins.
COVID-19 The government extended by another 30 days the state of alert in Romania to contain the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, as of January 13. The state of alert was declared in May, after a 2-month state of emergency. Current restrictions have not been amended. Ski slopes remain open, but measures will be in place to avoid crowding, which is the main way to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. Meanwhile, almost 3,700 new coronavirus cases and 156 new deaths were reported on Tuesday in Romania, which has recorded almost 680,000 cases and 16,881 deaths since the start of the outbreak. 8,783 COVID-19 patients are hospitalised, 1,073 of them in intensive care.
VACCINE PM Florin Cîţu Tuesday endorsed a request for the European Commission’s approval of another 8 million doses of BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine for Romania, in addition to the 12.7 million already contracted by Bucharest. Cîţu said in a Facebook post that Romania also contracted 3.4 million doses of the Moderna vaccine. Also on Tuesday, the coordinator of the national COVID-19 vaccination programme Valeriu Gheorghiţă announced that the online vaccine booking system for the 2nd stage of the programme will be operational as of January 15. In this stage, he explained, 750 vaccination centres will be opened, with a combined 1,700 locations. The 2nd stage covers people over 65, chronic patients, people in care centres and personnel in key sectors. Since the start of Romania’s immunization programme on December 27, more than 134,000 people have received the COVID-19 vaccine.
PROTEST Healthcare trade unions Tuesday picketed prefecture offices in Bucharest and other major cities, to protest a government order freezing salaries and pensions this year. There are also plans to picket the headquarters of the health, labour and finance ministries and Parliament during the latter's debates of the state budget bill. Trade unions say they are planning to send an open letter to the president and the members of the Romanian Parliament and the European Parliament warning that Romania is the only country in Europe to diminish the incomes of the public sector employees directly involved in the fight against the pandemic.
CORRUPTION The Prosecutor General of Romania, Gabriela Scutea, Tuesday asked president Klaus Iohannis to green light the criminal prosecution of former prime minister Călin Popescu Tăriceanu, who is accused of bribe taking in 2007 and 2008, during his term in office. Prosecutors say he indirectly received from an Austrian company material benefits worth 800,000 dollars consisting in consultancy services. In exchange, Tăriceanu pushed for the adoption by his cabinet of decisions that benefitted this company. A previous request of the National Anticorruption Directorate, in November 2018, to the same effect, had been dismissed by the Senate in June 2019. Prosecutors are now saying they have additional evidence and new elements have appeared in the case.
DEFICIT The EU had a 75.6 billion EUR current account surplus (2.2% of GDP) in the 3rd quarter of 2020, according to estimates released by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union. In July - September 2020, 19 EU member countries reported a current account surplus, including Germany (62.9 bn), Italy (25.3 bn), and the Netherlands (17 bn). Eight member states reported current account deficits, with the largest levels in France (-11.4 bn), Romania (-3.9 bn) and Belgium (-2.6 bn).
VISIT In Kiev on Tuesday Maia Sandu, the new pro-western president of the Republic of Moldova, and her Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the renewal of bilateral relations and emphasised the strategic importance of the cooperation between the 2 countries. This is Maia Sandu’s first official trip abroad since taking office. According to Radio Chisinau, the 2 presidents discussed the need to improve economic relations in the field of energy, transport and environment protection. The relations between Moldova and Ukraine were strained between 2016 and 2020 during the term of Moldova's former pro-Russian president Igor Dodon, who was defeated by Maia Sandu in the November elections. The first top level foreign official to be received by Sandu was Romania's president Klaus Iohannis on 29th December. The two signed a joint declaration aimed at consolidating the bilateral strategic partnership. (tr. A.M. Popescu)