Romanians protesting against COVID passes try to storm parliament

Mostly maskless far-right demonstrators converge outside parliament, waving national flags, blocking traffic and chanting ‘freedom’.

Romania is the EU's second-least vaccinated state, with roughly 40 percent of the population inoculated [File: Alexandru Dobre/AP Photo]

Romanian protesters have tried to force their way into parliament, blocking traffic and vandalising some cars in the capital Bucharest in an attempt to prevent lawmakers from making a COVID-19 health pass mandatory for workers.

Riot police were caught off guard on Tuesday when hundreds of protesters poured in through a yard gate, spray painting cars and forcing security staff to block the building’s entryways. The protesters later left. The police did not use force.

While the governing coalition of centrists and left-wingers is currently negotiating the terms of a health pass mandate, no such bill is on parliament’s legislative agenda at the moment.

An estimated 2,000-2,500 mostly maskless demonstrators from across the country gathered outside parliament in the morning, waving Romanian flags and chanting “Freedom,” in a protest organised by the opposition ultra-nationalist Alliance for Uniting Romanians (AUR).

Chaos briefly ensued as dozens forced their way into the parliament building courtyard and some tried to access the building but were stopped by riot police.

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.

Also in October, Romanian senators narrowly rejected a bill requiring medical staff, public sector workers and those of large privately-owned firms to carry a COVID-19 health pass which was aimed at boosting vaccine uptake.

The coalition government is negotiating a new bill that would require most workers to show they are either vaccinated, have recovered from the virus or have a recent negative test, but have yet to agree on who pays for testing and for how long.

Romania is the EU’s second-least vaccinated state, with roughly 40 percent of the population inoculated amid distrust in state institutions and poor vaccine education. At the height of the fourth wave in late October, Romania topped global lists of new coronavirus deaths per million.

Romania’s health ministry said in a news release on 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”.

During the festive holidays, hundreds of thousands of Romanians living abroad are expected to return home, which prompted authorities on Monday to implement 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 on 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.”

Source: News Agencies