Protest in Romania over bid to extend COVID health pass to workplaces

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Thousands were expected to take to the street of Bucharest on Tuesday as Romanian MPs vote on whether to extend the use of the COVID health pass to the workplace.

Romania has the European Union’s second-lowest vaccination rate with just 39.6% of its 19.3 million population fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). The average for the 31 countries in the EU/EEA are is 67.3%.

Efforts to boost the vaccination rate, including a campaign against misinformation, have largely failed and the new government — made up of the centre-right National Liberal Party (PNL), the leftist Social Democratic Party (PSD), and ethnic Hungarian UDMR — now wants to extend the use of the COVID pass to workplaces.

The pass — attesting that the holder has either been fully vaccinated, has tested negative for COVID-19 during the previous 48 hours, or has recently recovered from the disease — was introduced in late October to visit restaurants, shopping centres, non-essential shops, cultural venues, swimming-pools and gyms as the country was battling a surge in infections that was threatening to overwhelm its struggling health care system.

The government’s proposed legislation plans that the COVID “certificate will be introduced when there is a sustained increase of three consecutive weeks in the number of cases with a coefficient of 1.5 and will be discontinued when the trend goes downwards and the cumulative incidence falls below 1”, the health ministry said in a statement.

Minister for Health Alexandru Rafila met with business representatives on Monday to discuss the proposed legislation and pledged to grant free test vouchers to companies “to ensure that economic agents adapt to the situation created by the introduction of the COVID-19 certificate”.

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But the far-right populist party the Alliance for Romanian Unity (AUR), which created a surprise during last year’s legislative elections by entering parliament, is vehemently against the planned bill, slamming it as “liberiticide” and a covert attempt to impose mandatory vaccination.

“The dictatorial PSD/PNL/USR alliance wants to condition Romanians’ right to work,” it wrote in a Facebook post on Monday.

“They want to impose, in disguise, compulsory vaccination,” they added, urging people to join the protest in front of Parliament.

According to an IPSOS survey for the World Economic Forum released earlier this month, 78% of workers across the world support vaccine and mask mandates, including from Romania.

More than 14,400 people from 33 countries were polled for the survey and 66% of the Romanian respondents agreed that people in their workplace should be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Nearly three-quarters of them also backed the idea that workers who are not vaccinated should undergo frequent testing.

More than 58,100 people have lost their lives to COVID-19 in Romania since the beginning of the pandemic and nearly 1.8 million cases have been confirmed.

The eastern European country had the lowest 14-day notification rate in the EU in the week ending December 12, according to the latest ECDC report released last week, with fewer than 400 infections per 100,000 population.

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