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Coronavirus: Bucharest schools close as COVID-19 surges in Romania's capital

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People shout slogans during a protest against the use of face masks and the protection measures against the COVID-19 infections in Bucharest, Romania, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020
People shout slogans during a protest against the use of face masks and the protection measures against the COVID-19 infections in Bucharest, Romania, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020   -   Copyright  AP Photos
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Bucharest closed its schools on Tuesday, switching to online learning for at least the next two weeks after the city recorded more than three cases of coronavirus per 1,000 residents over the previous two weeks.

That was the red line officials had given for imposing stricter measures, including closing all schools, indoor restaurants, cafes, theatres and cinemas for two weeks, and mandatory mask-wearing in all public spaces.

In a press conference on Monday evening, Romanian president Klaus Iohannis said that the whole of Romanian society had been thrown into chaos by the pandemic, including schools.

On Tuesday, the country reported 3,400 new cases of the virus, down from the record highs of more than 4,000 cases last week, but still triple the number from a month ago.

Another 65 Romanians died over the previous 24 hours, bringing the total number of COVID-related deaths in the country to just under 6,000 since the pandemic began.

Other regions of Romania are also seeing a rapid rise in caseloads, with the central region of Alba passing the three per 1,000 mark on Tuesday. As of Thursday, schools in Cluj-Napoca, a city in the northwest, will also switch to online learning, with masks compulsory in all public spaces.

However, there are concerns about the country’s overall ability to handle a wider switch to online learning. According to a recent study conducted by Save the Children Romania, 28% of children in the country don't have the material resources necessary for online learning. On Friday, the ministry of education delivered 8,057 electronic tablets to schools across Bucharest, in preparation for a potential switch to online learning.

“We are talking about a catastrophe here, not about some administrative details and what we are doing is preventing a lost generation from appearing, and for those children who do not yet have access, solutions are being sought for each case,” Iohannis said in his press conference.

On Sunday, the prefect of Bucharest also announced that all COVID-19 intensive care beds in the capital were now occupied, with more hospital resources being allocated to treating coronavirus patients. And on Monday, Virgil Musta, the head of the Victor Babes Infectious Diseases Hospital in the southwestern city of Timisoara, told local media that the country should have a strict lockdown of “two to three weeks” in order to try to limit the spread of the virus.

Romania has had 186,254 cases of coronavirus to date, with 5,996 related deaths.