On Sunday, footage of Orthodox priests in the Romanian city of Cluj giving communion to a long line of the faithful using a shared spoon was published by a local news platform.
It wasn’t the first such footage to appear, but coming a day after the country imposed tough new measures to try to halt the spread of coronavirus, it hit a nerve.
As millions across the country largely stayed inside to avoid the spread of the virus, the actions of the priests seemed to risk causing the opposite.
“Many priests have not understood what this is about, and given the fact that they didn’t have an order from the Patriarch they proceeded as usual,” said Bogdan Tanase, head of Romania’s Doctors’ Alliance. “It will have an impact. If you have 100 people, the probability that one is infected is high,” he added.
While the Romanian Orthodox Church had announced “exceptional measures” on February 28th, with worshipers able to ask priests to use their own spoon to receive communion, it wasn’t a requirement.
The actions of the priests highlight the often uneven response to the current pandemic, in Romania and elsewhere in the world, though this is changing as authorities announced tighter and tighter measures.
A day after the footage appeared online, Romanian church authorities announced a list of new measures, including that services would now go ahead but without the participation of the public, who could watch proceedings online and on television.
On Tuesday, Romania’s president, Klaus Iohannis, announced a full lockdown across the country, to enter into effect on Wednesday, with the army on hand to help enforce the measures. People will only be allowed to leave their homes to go to work or go shopping for food, with those older than 65 needing to “stay home at all times,” he said.
This came after Romania reported its eighth death from coronavirus. The country had 762 confirmed cases as of Tuesday afternoon, with over 5,500 people under institutionalised quarantine and a further 83,970 in isolation at home and under medical supervision.
Romanian authorities have also announced that 103 health workers have so far contracted the virus. On Tuesday, one of the largest hospital in northeastern Romania was closed for disinfection after at least 52 of its doctors and nurses tested positive.
For doctors like Tanase, hopes that the new measures taken by the government will help to reduce the spread of the virus are tempered by fears that the healthcare system is ill-equipped to manage a major outbreak.
“I hope the new measures will keep numbers down, but in my opinion the measures have been taken too late,” Tanase said, adding that the Romania health system “will not cope with such a burden of patients.”