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Romania's second wave? Record spike in COVID-19 cases alarms health authorities

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A man wearing a mask against the COVID-19 infection holds gloves he received after having his temperature tested before being allowed into a voting station in Bucharest.
A man wearing a mask against the COVID-19 infection holds gloves he received after having his temperature tested before being allowed into a voting station in Bucharest.   -   Copyright  Andreea Alexandru/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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Romania is experiencing a spike in coronavirus cases that many fear is the start of a second wave of the virus.

On Friday, the country reported 2,343 new cases over the previous 24 hours, along with 53 related deaths. This was a new daily record and the third day in a row that the country experienced more than 2,000 new cases. The capital, Bucharest, saw the highest increase, with 517 new cases.

And it’s not just the number of cases that is alarming experts, but the high rate of positive testing. Friday’s case numbers came from just 26,011 tests, meaning a positive rate of more than 9%.

“There’s no doubt that this is a serious situation because we've never faced such a high number of cases in consecutive days,” says Alexandru Rafila, a microbiologist and Romania’s representative to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Dr Rafila says the ministry of health should be assessing very quickly what kind of resources are allocated and what may happen under different scenarios, the most favourable of which would see a plateauing of new cases in the coming days, linked to the start of the new school year, that could then be chipped away at, the least favourable a continued rise in community transmission.

Friday’s record high came two weeks after schools reopened in Romania. On Thursday, the country’s health minister, Nelu Tataru, said that more than 770 children have tested positive in the last week, the majority of which are teenagers. He added that September had been “a hard month” for health authorities.

The results also came days after the country held local elections, raising fears of an imminent rise in cases linked to polling station visits, even with the strong safety measures put in place.

Beds in intensive care units in Romania are currently at 55% occupancy, and Dr Rafila says that the government might need to consider “supplementary resources in terms of beds in other hospitals, which were not included until now [in treating coronavirus cases].”

There is also a concern that the higher case numbers could lead to the reinstating of restrictions that were lifted over recent months. Speaking at an event on Thursday, Prime minister Ludovic Orban said restaurants could be closed again in localities with over 1.5 cases per 1,000 inhabitants.

In total, Romania has had 132,001 coronavirus cases to date, with a death toll of 4,915.