BUCHAREST – More than 5,000 far-right protesters marched Saturday in Romania’s capital of Bucharest to reject upcoming new restrictions that authorities hope will combat an alarming surge of COVID-19 infections.
Daily COVID-19 infections in the European Union nation of 19 million have skyrocketed from around 1,000 daily cases a month ago to 12,590 new cases on Saturday. That was Romania’s highest daily number of infections since the pandemic started.
The rise is putting the country’s hospitals under serious pressure as intensive care units reach near-capacity nationally.
Authorities have said that new restrictions will be implemented when an area’s infection rate exceeds 6 per 1,000 residents over a 14-day period. Bucharest’s infection rate Saturday stood above 8 per 1,000 residents.
The mostly mask-less marchers blocked traffic, honked horns and chanted “Freedom!” One placard read: “Green certificates = dictatorship.” The demonstration was organized by Romania’s far-right AUR party.
The new restrictions — expected to take effect in the next few days — will require people to wear masks in public and make shops close at 10:00 p.m. Restaurants will remain open at half capacity but only for people with COVID-19 passes.
The protest angered some medical workers.
Beatrice Mahler, hospital manager of Bucharest’s Marius Nasta Institute of Pneumology, said Saturday’s protesters “believe their right to ‘freedom’ is above our right to health.”
“The situation in hospitals is serious,” she told The Associated Press. “We have patients hospitalized in beds in the hallway — all with extremely severe forms of COVID-19.”
The protest came a day after a deadly fire tore through an intensive care unit in a hospital in Romania’s port city of Constanta, killing seven COVID-19 patients. The cause of Friday’s blaze is not yet known, but President Klaus Ioannis said that Romania had “failed in its fundamental mission to protect its citizens.”
The pandemic has highlighted the poor condition of Romania’s overstretched health care system. The Eastern European country has the lowest spending on health care in the EU's 27 nations relative to GDP at 5.2% compared to a bloc average of 10%.
Romania has fully vaccinated only 33.5% of all adults, making it the second-least vaccinated EU nation after Bulgaria. It has seen more than 37,390 confirmed virus deaths.
Follow all AP stories on the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.