COVID-19 Cases Rising in Romania as Omicron Wave Begins

Photo: COVID-19 Rate in September 2021

Health Minister, Alexandru Rafila has suggested that COVID-19 infections will accelerate around the middle of January and that the 5th wave, fuelled by the Omicron variant, will be at least twice as large as the 4th wave, which set all-time high records in terms of deaths and hospitalisations.

During an interview with Romanian news service, Antena 3, he said,

Alexandru Rafila
Alexandru Rafila
Minister of Health of Romania

“So, around January 15th, we will probably start to see a faster increase in the number of cases. How fast it will be, how many people will be affected, remains to be seen. In wave 4 we had about 400,000 confirmed diseases, by diagnosis.

How many diseases we will have in wave 5 remains to be seen – we probably estimate a doubling of the number of cases in this wave. (…) To be avoided, he would not have been able to avoid it, but certainly the profile of wave 5 would have been different. Because one is to have 25-50,000 cases in a day and with an increase in 2-3 weeks to reach, say, from 5,000 cases to 25,000 cases and another is to have an increase that is much slower and have 5,000, 6,000, 9,000 in a week, after which to go on a downward trend.”

He also expressed his frustration, that despite the initial agreement of parties to support the mandatory use of COVID-19 Green Certificates in workplaces, the decision has been delayed due to the support being withdrawn by parties who initially agreed to support the draft law, apparently due to the fact that no party wanted to bear the political costs of supporting the draft law, despite similar requirements being adopted in other countries.

Adding to the topic, he said, “As soon as the adoption of such a document, the COVID electronic certificate, is delayed, it is certain that its effectiveness will become less and less relevant (…) I don't know what to say at the moment, the next few weeks will probably be decisive and we will have an answer related to this certificate. The later it is introduced in the evolution of a pandemic wave, the lower its usefulness.”

Vaccination Rate Slowing Once Again

Romania remains second lowest in the EU/EEA for vaccinations, with only 40.3% of the total population being vaccinated. The country relaxed restrictions over the holiday period as case numbers began to fall, but these case numbers have once again started to climb as Romania heads into the 5th wave with extremely low vaccination rates in comparison to other EU EU/EEA Countries.

CountryUptake full vaccination (%)Uptake of additional dose (%)
Data Source: ECDC Jan 4th, 2022 @ 10:30 AM

However, the minister suggested that the “actual” vaccination rate is closer to 50% because the resident population is smaller than the official population of Romania. He recently estimated that some eight million Romanians have received their full vaccination for COVID-19.

The fact that the EU Green Certificate was not introduced as a mandatory requirement for workplaces and the relaxation of restrictions, does not incentivise the Romanian population to get vaccinated. In October, when the Green Certificate was required to enter malls, restaurants and certain other venues, the country saw an immediate boost in uptake.

Other countries across the EU/EEA and surrounding areas, can boast vaccination rates close to 80-90%, such as the UK, which has been used as an example of an extremely successful vaccination program, currently reporting 90.1% – 1st dose, 82.5% 2nd dose and 59.5% booster/3rd dose. For example, on December 21st, 2021, the UK administered 968,665 booster doses and to date, has administered, 133,458,192 combined doses in total, around 7 times the population of Romania, since January 2021.

The Omicron Variant

If cases expected to double during the 5th wave, Romania could see around 800,000 cases. The good news is that, according to reports from the UK and South Africa, the Omicron variant seems less likely to result in hospitalisation, something that has been of serious concern for Romania's health system and that of other countries during the “Delta” wave, where Romania set records across the world in terms of mortality rates.

However, the health system in Romania was under strain even before the COVID-19 pandemic, and with such high case numbers being estimated for this wave, it's highly likely that the country and the population will be put under some serious stress as they battle the 5th wave.

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