Romania: Far-right protesters oppose COVID workplace passes

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Hundreds of far-right protesters gathered in Romania’s capital, Bucharest, on Tuesday to oppose a bill that would introduce “green certificates” in workplaces, which authorities hope will limit the spread of coronavirus infections and prevent another collapse of the country’s health care system.

Romania, a European Union nation of about 19 million, faced its deadliest surge of coronavirus infections and deaths through October and November when intensive care units across the country were overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, and hospital morgues ran out of space.

In response to the unfolding disaster, authorities tightened restrictions in late October, and daily coronavirus cases have since dropped to their lowest since August. Authorities are now looking at ways to try to avert another grim virus surge — now a real concern after Romania confirmed more than a dozen cases of the omicron coronavirus variant.

Romania’s new coalition government is discussing a bill that would require people going into their workplaces to present green certificates — obtained with proof of full vaccination, having recovered from COVID-19, or a negative test. They would be introduced after three consecutive weeks of an increasing COVID-19 infection rate, and once a certain incident rate is exceeded.

Only 40% of Romania’s population, or 7.7 million people, have received two doses of a coronavirus vaccine. Some 2 million of those have also received the booster dose that is considered necessary to combat the omicron variant.

The mostly maskless demonstrators, who converged outside the parliament building, waved national tricolor flags in red, yellow, and blue, blocked traffic and chanted “Freedom!” Chaos briefly ensued as dozens forced their way into the parliament building’s courtyard and some tried to access the building but were stopped by riot police.

The protest was attended by various right-wing groups including supporters of Romania’s nationalist AUR party, which holds seats in parliament. In a video broadcast online from the protest, AUR co-chair George Simion urged people to “stand with us today to block the green certificate” and called the bill “unconstitutional.”

“Side with AUR, side with the people who are right-headed — who want justice,” he said.

Romania’s health ministry said in a press release Monday that the adoption of the law on the digital COVID-19 certificate “must take into account the interest of public health” but also cater to the “proper functioning of the economy.”

Over the winter holidays, hundreds of thousands of Romanians living abroad are expected to return home, which prompted authorities to implement on Monday passenger location forms to improve the traceability of infections. In 24 hours, more than 100,000 forms have been filled out.

Beatrice Mahler, hospital manager of Bucharest’s Marius Nasta Institute of Pneumology, which has been on the front line of the pandemic, told The Associated Press Tuesday that her hospital has been busy disinfecting wards, repairing medical equipment, and revising medical oxygen supplies.

“This moment is sensitive and critical,” Mahler said. “I hope that the experience of the past waves will be the one that will make us responsible … and understand that testing is mandatory if we want to protect our loved ones.”

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