As many as 757 people who had tested positive for COVID-19 have left Romania's hospitals against medical advice, according to the latest figures from the country's health ministry.
A health care system consistently ranked the weakest in Europe in the Euro Health Consumer Index (EHCI), drives people's desire not to be admitted to or stay in hospital.
It came after the country’s Constitutional Court ruled against imposing mandatory quarantine, isolation or hospital treatment on infected patients — the court decided that such measures needed to be bought about by an act of parliament and not ministerial order.
Romania has sought to manage the coronavirus pandemic by hospitalising those proved to be infected and quarantining or isolating those suspected to have contracted the virus.
“Patients who decided to leave hospital are still very much contagious," Dragos Garofil, state secretary in the Ministry of Health, told Euronews. "They can leave whenever they want and now there is no institutional way to stop them."
The country's Social Democrat opposition, which has been advocating against the measures, welcomed the Constitutional Court ruling.
“There is no legal basis to impose quarantine or isolation on COVID-19 patients. Rights and freedoms should only be limited by law, Corneliu Buicu, Social Democrat MP and President of the Romanian Parliament Committee for Health, told Euronews.
"The Parliament is making changes to the draft law to respect the court’s ruling,” he added.
Romania has recently seen record daily spikes its number of reported infections. On Friday alone reports suggested 799 new cases in 24 hours — the highest one-day surge since the pandemic began in Romania over four months ago.
“Relaxing restrictions and disobeying health recommendations issued by authorities have brought on the concerning increase in the number of cases," Garofil told Euronews.
"Fake news also played a role as disinformation has been picked up by some opinion leaders," he added.
"Last but not least, the recent Constitutional Court ruling left authorities without any means to fight against the pandemic.”
In a statement, the country's minister of health, Nelu Tatar, said he believes that up to 30,000 people might have left isolation, quarantine or medical surveillance — some are suspected cases, but others have tested positive and refused to go to the hospital or left against doctors’ recommendations.
Cristian Focsan, 43, is one such person. He initially refused to be admitted to hospital despite testing positive for COVID-19 but found his health quickly deteriorated.
“My bones and stomach hurt. I was coughing incessantly. I could barely stand up. Then I thought that things were getting of control and I needed to get to the hospital,” he told Euronews.
He remained in a hospital in the south-central Romanian city of Targoviste at the time of publication.
Public debate on health regulations is divisive and fuelled by some coronavirus deniers, anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists, a few hundred of whom recently gathered to protest in Bucharest.
The Romanian government yesterday extended the country's state of emergency for a further 30 days, warning that the number of infections will keep rising and if the current upward trend continues, up to 1,600 new daily coronavirus cases could be expected in mid-August.