COVID-19 in Romania: latest developments
Romania is struggling with the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, with growing numbers of cases reported every day. According to official data, in the little over 1 year since the first SARS–CoV-2 patient was identified in the country, Romania has seen over 880,000 infections, and some 22,000 people have died. For the first time this year, the number of new cases reported in 24 hours has recently gone over 6,000. Another worrying figure is the number of people in ICUs.
The authorities promise that the situation is under control but call for responsibility. President Klaus Iohannis said this new wave may be the last, given that the number of immunised people is growing by the day.
This week, the third and last stage of the vaccination programme kicked off in Romania, giving access to vaccines to the general public over 16 years of age. This month, Romania should receive a total of over 2.6 million doses of 3 approved vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca).
In the meantime, however, the state of alert has been extended this week. Previous measures remain in place, and some new ones have been introduced, such as a ceiling on occupancy rates in mountain resorts of 70% of the total accommodation capacity.
National Recovery and Resilience Plan
President Klaus Iohannis had talks with the Liberal PM Florin Cîțu and other Cabinet members, to discuss the breakdown of the funds under the National Recovery and Resilience Plan. After the meeting, Iohannis said the healthcare system will be one of the main beneficiaries. According to the head of state, the over 30 billion euro earmarked for Romania under this EU-wide plan is a chance for Romania to develop and implement the reforms postponed for years.
The investments stipulated in the plan will help create new jobs, especially for those affected by the pandemic, will create new business opportunities, will help strengthen entrepreneurship and boost competitiveness. The Plan will also allow for the funding of the motorway network, while at the same time promoting green transportation. Another programme, entitled “Educated Romania,” will also benefit from substantial funding.
The Plan is to be approved by the Government next week and submitted to the European Commission.
Public sector pensions and salaries
The Government has taken the first concrete step to scrap the cumulated payment of public pension benefits and salary to the same individual. The Cabinet approved a draft law that forces public sector employees who reach retirement age to choose between receiving a salary if they continue to work, and receiving public pension if they retire. According to the labour minister Raluca Turcan, staying on the job past retirement age is an option, a right, and not an obligation. Nearly 35,000 people currently receive both salaries and pensions from the state budget, and in the near future they will have to opt for one or another.
Simple motion against the economy minister
The Senate of Romania Tuesday dismissed a simple motion tabled by the Social Democratic Party in opposition against the economy minister Claudiu Năsui, a member of Save Romania Union. Among other things, the Social Democrats blame Năsui for the absence of a strategy to support Romanian industry, for delays in implementing an aid scheme for the hospitality sector, for scrapping holiday vouchers and suspending payments under the Start-Up Nation programme.
Claudiu Năsui denied all the accusations, and claimed the motion was tied to his ministry making public a list with the institution’s contracts. Năsui promised his efforts to bring transparency in the work of the ministry will not stop here. We have turned off many conduits for draining public money and will continue to do so, we will encourage exports and will promote companies’ efforts to connect to the global market, the economy minister said during the debates on the motion against him.
Cooperation and Verification Mechanism
Romania may conclude the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism in the judiciary this year, provided that it implements all the recommendations of the European Commission, and as of next year its justice system might be assessed for the first time only in the context of the report on the rule of law, like all other EU member countries. This statement was made exclusively for Radio Romania by the European Commission vice-president Věra Jourová, who added that the Commission still believes the special unit investigating magistrates is an intrusive institution which affects the independence of judges.
Věra Jourová had online consultations with Romanian officials, magistrates, MPs and civil society representatives. In a Facebook post after the talks with the European official, PM Florin Cîțu said that his Cabinet intends to address the ill-advised changes in the laws regulating the judiciary operated in 2017-2019, and that he shares the Commission’s hopes that Romania will meet its rule of law commitments in the first half of this year.
On Thursday the government passed a bill dismantling the special unit investigating magistrates. The justice minister Stelian Ion said the goal is to return cases involving magistrates to the competent prosecutor’s offices.
“collective” – the first Romanian film nominated for the Oscars
The documentary “colectiv”, by Alexander Nanau, is as of this week the first Romanian film nominated for the Oscars, competing in 2 categories (best documentary” and “best international feature”). The Romania-Luxembourg co-production depicts the joint efforts of doctors, government officials and investigative journalists that uncover a large-scale fraud in the Romanian healthcare system, in the wake of the fire in Bucharest’s Colectiv nightclub, which killed scores of people in October 2015.
The film premiered at the 2019 Venice International Film Festival and earned the best documentary awards of the European Film Academy and of the London Film Critics’ Circle. “It tells the story of how incompetent authorities use lies and manipulation to trample over people’s lives,” the director says. (tr. A.M. Popescu)