Romania tightens COVID-19 restrictions as cases surge

Ambulance medical staff transport a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patient to the emergency room of Bucharest University Hospital, in Bucharest, Romania, October 7, 2021. Picture taken October 7, 2021. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS

BUCHAREST, Oct 23 (Reuters) - The Romanian government will reintroduce a night curfew and make health passes mandatory for entry to most public venues from Monday, as well as sending school children on vacation for two weeks, as it seeks to stem a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

The measures, expanding nationwide measures that had mostly already been taken in towns with high case numbers, were approved by the interim government late on Friday.

Romania has reported record numbers of daily coronavirus deaths and infections this month and the hospital system is stretched to breaking point. The country has the second-lowest coronavirus vaccination rate in the European Union.

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"We are in a disaster situation," deputy Interior Minister Raed Arafat said on Friday. "We have seen other countries go through this when there wasn't a weapon available, namely the vaccine."

"We are in this situation while having the vaccine, because the majority of us refused to get inoculated. This situation could have been avoided."

The new measures will be in force for 30 days and include restrictions on the movement of people from 10 p.m. and shutting down shops and restaurants from 9 p.m.

Only people who have been vaccinated or who have recovered from the virus will be allowed access to most non-essential public venues except food shops and pharmacies. Religious services can also operate without a pass.

Wearing facemasks in public places will become mandatory from Monday, while weddings and other private events are banned.

The government is also urging employers to send half their staff to work from home.

Just over a third of the adult population is fully vaccinated in Romania, amid distrust in state institutions and misinformation campaigns.

But inoculations were on the rise this week, with people apparently responding to dramatic news images of overcrowded hospitals and people dying. On Friday, more than 86,000 people got their first vaccine dose, a record for a single day in the country.

Six Romanian COVID-19 patients have been transported to the central Polish city of Lodz for treatment, Polish authorities said on Saturday.

"They are all in a serious condition on ventilators," said Dagmara Zalewska, spokesperson for the Lodzkie region.

Reporting by Luiza Ilie Additional reporting by Anna Koper and Alan Charlish in Warsaw Editing by Frances Kerry

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