Coronavirus in Moldova: Monitoring Lies and Contradictions from Authorities and Politicians
This article will be updated occasionally to reflect major controversies. Check the original version in Romanian here.
↓ 31.03.2020 • 13:15
17. What’s the deal with private labs?
On March 31, Unimedia learned that the Cabinet and the Prime-Minister’s Office, including Ion Chicu himself, have been tested at a private laboratory. “We chose a private laboratory in order not to overload the [official] ANSP laboratory,” said Chicu’s aide Vitalie Dragancea.
Earlier, health minister Viorica Dumbrăveanu urged the general public not to trust private labs. She even expressed her regret that the labs giving coronavirus tests outside the official system could not be fined for this.
On March 24, the Emergency Commission fired with little explanation the director of the National Hospital. Anatol Ciubotaru’s dismissal was at least in part due to his decision to test several front-line healthcare workers at a private laboratory. Four positive tests were later officially confirmed.
↓ 20.03.2020 • 13:30
16. What is the testing policy?
At a briefing in the morning of March 20, health minister Viorica Dumbrăveanu stated: “Unlike in France, where tests are applied only for severe cases, here in the Republic of Moldova we apply tests for all the cases, including suspects. Sometimes more than one test [for one person], plus two tests when the patient is getting better, before being discharged from hospital. We apply tests at all stages.”
At a Pro TV talk show on March 19, Public Health Agency director Nicolae Furtună described an apparently different testing strategy: “There has been this question whether we should test people who have been in contact [with confirmed cases]. Generally, those who have been in contact but don’t display any symptoms tend to test negative, in many cases over and over again. So a decision has been made not to fritter away our stock of testing kits and instead strictly monitor those who have been in contact. [...] If we spend tests unwisely, I’m afraid we will end up in the same situation as with the stocks of masks.”
↓ 18.03.2020 • 13:30
15. First lethal case comes from Hîncești
On March 18, Moldova reported its first lethal case of Covid-19. The victim was a 61-year-old woman who had returned from Italy to her native village in Hîncești district, one of the two villages placed in quarantine already after an election was held on Sunday in that constituency. The lady was hospitalized with acute symptoms on March 11. Reportedly she already showed symptoms as early as March 8 and had many contacts with people in her village.
On March 15, as Hîncești district was holding an election that was ultimately won by the Socialist candidate, health minister Viorica Dumbrăveanu stated: “We would have liked to be able to stop the election in Hîncești. But with the current legislation, elections can only be canceled during situations of emergency. We don’t have the legal instruments to do that.” During four days, from the hospitalization to the death of the victim, apparently no one looked for instruments.
On March 17, Parliament decalred a state o emergency. The newly officialized PSRM-PDM coalition didn’t have time for questions from opposition members as to what superpowers exactly the state of emergency will unlock for the Emergency Commission. However, it found some time for other issues, such as thecontroversial appoitment of new members to the High Council of the Judiciary.
Before declaring the state of emergency, Parliament adopted the respective law. One amendment basically gives the Emergency Commission a carte blanche to take actions other than those expressly set out in the law.
Neither PM Ion Chicu, nor the Legal Commission headed by Socialist Vasile Bolea couldn’t convincingly explain why the state of emergency was being proposed for the full lenght of 60 days allowed by the law, even as many other countries chose periods of 15 or 30 days. Although it was announced that the vote for the state of emergencywas unanimous, at least one MP, Dumitru Alaiba of PAS, posted that he abstained, fearing abuses from the government.
↓ 15.03.2020 • 17:00
The March 15 election in Hîncești wasn’t suspended. The Central Election Commission excused itself by saying that, according to the Constitution, the election could only be postponed if Parliament decreed a state of emergency. The same thing was said by President Dodon.
This legal argument doesn’t stand. For one thing, the Constitution simply doesn’t say that. Moreover, the Election Code states that an election can be postponed in case of “unforeseen circumstances that could put voters in peril.” The National Emergency Commission, headed by prime minister Chicu, has the authority to say this is the case. In fact, it already did. Somehow, the Commission didn’t need Parliament’s approval to limit other rights – such as the freedom of assembly and the freedom of movement – when it imposed restrictions on gatherings and travel.
More on the subject in our artice: How the authorities washed their hands of the Hîncești election
↓ 14.03.2020 • 18:00
12. Hîncești election
Despite a Code Red epidemic alert declared on March 13, the authorities decided not to suspend the election scheduled for March 15 in Hîncești constituency, several kilometers south-east of Chisinau. Still, the local electoral authorities assured that on election day polling places would be regularly disinfected, and voters would be steered to avoid overcrowding.
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom postponed local elections for a year due to the pandemic.
↓ 12.03.2020 • 15:00
Despite a blanket ban on large gatherings, on March 12, a Moldova-Hungary business forum was held in Chisinau. The event brought together top officials from both countries as well as representatives of 35 large companies. It was notably attended by prime minister Ion Chicu and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban, who was on an official visit to Moldova. On March 11, Hungary declared a state of emergency.
10. Quod licet Iovi
On March 11, as the fourth case was reported, the Orthodox Church of Moldova announced it wasn’t going to suspend the practice of Eucharist (the consecration of bread and wine from a common chalice and spoon) and masses in general. Also, it won’t allow churchgoers to bring their own spoons, as has been recently permitted by the Romanian Orthodox Church.
The Government negotiated with the Church and, despite an existing general ban on gatherings of 50 or more people, wasn’t able to convince the clerics. In Italy, the Catholic Church has cancelled all public masses until at least April 3. In Greece, prime miniser Kyriakos Mitsotakis declared that the Orthdox Church would have to comply: “What applies to public gatherings also applies to churches.”
↓ 10.03.2020 • 20:00
9. “Concrete actions of spreading”
On March 10, two more cases were confirmed, also having Italian roots. Socialist MP Corneliu Furculiță declared that “the opposition is now taking concrete actions to spread COVID-19 in Moldova,” claiming that PAS urged Moldovans expats in Italy to return home. The affiliated media amplified this into news. The pro-Socialist outlets didn’t seem to mind, though, when two days earlier prime minister Chicu said that “all the Moldovans everywhere are welcome to return home.”
In any case, PAS member Galina Sajin was actually misquoted. As a member of Parliament representing the Moldovan European diaspora, she only recognized the right of Moldovan citizens abroad to return home if they so wished. If any call to action was uttered by Sajin, it was this: (in fact, it’s a quote from the pro-Socialst NTV): “Go to medical facilities in Italy. Don’t be afraid that you’ll be charged. The Italian health care is free of charge when emergency cases are involved.”
8. How do we protect our family doctors?
On March 9, Public Health Agency director Nicolae Furtună admitted that family doctors didn’t have proper equipment to work with Covid-19 patients.
Appearing during the same TV show, former health minister Ala Nemerenco called on the government to protect family doctors and ambulance personnel, who are the first line of defense against the epidemic:
“[Imagine] a family doctor who goes to someone put in quarantine at home ... Excuse me, but I as a clinician cannot understand how you can keep one meter apart from someone who has symptoms when you are supposed to examine her or him. You need to perform an auscultation and take a look at the patient’s throat and nose. A family doctor should be properly equipped for this.”
Do we need isolation pods?
An isolation pod, also known as an izoleta, is a special plastic tube that seals off a patient carried in an ambulance, thus minimizing the risks of contamination. In Moldova, the first coronavirus case was twice transported with an ordinary ambulance. Health minister Viorica Dumbrăveanu stated:
*“This morning a question appeared about these izoletas and whether the Prehospital Emergency Care System has them. I’d like to note that the WHO has made it clear that * such isolation pods are only needed when extremely serious infections are involved, such as Ebola, for example. ”
Meanwhile in Romania, suspect Covid-19 cases are transported in isolation pods. On March 9, the head of the Emergencies Department Raed Arafat told a press conference that every county has at least one izoleta. Moreover, the Romanian authorities intend to double or even treble their number.
Who does the right thing – the Moldovan authorities, who don’t use isolation pods to transport Covid-19 patients, or the Romanian authorities, who intend to buy them up in large quantities?
↓ 09.03.2020 • 18:00
6. First patient’s identity
Nicolae Furtună, director of the Agency for Public Health, on March 8 refused to disclose the name of the first patient: “There are things related to medical privacy and medical ethics that we cannot make known to the public at large.”
The next day, President Dodon disclosed the woman’s name, thus violating legislation on personal data and medical privacy.
5. Do only old people die?
On February 25, the pro-Socialist outlet Moldavskie Vedomosti (vedomosti.md) published an article titled: “Igor Dodon: We should not panic. This virus only affects people older than 70 years.” The article covered the statements made by the president after he inspected the Chisinau Airport and several hospitals. This is what he literally said:
“There is a lot of speculation, and panic can often bring more harm than the real thing. You know that this coronavirus mainly affects only the elderly. Deaths occurred among those aged 70 and older. No lethal cases occurred among children.”
While it’s true that the fatality rate grows with age, it’s completely false that only people aged 70 and older died of Covid-19. For example, on February 11, 520 patients who died were 70 and older, and 503 were younger. In China and in Iran there are multiple cases where doctors and young nurses – ages 20-40 years – died from the disease. Li Wenglan, the Wuhan doctor who blew the whistle about the great threats posed by the virus and who was threatened with prosecution for “spreading fake news”, caught the novel coronavirus himself and died. He was 34 years old.
The article quoting President Dodon generated a wave of republishing, criticism and even a protest among the elderly, after which… it disappeared from the original site.
4. Relying on ‘common sense’
Government officials, including the prime minister and the president, accused the first person to test positive for Covid-19 in Moldova of irresponsibility:
Prime minister Ion Chicu: “As we’ve been informed, by the Italian colleagues among others, the lady had been hospitalized in Italy. In a fit of great irresponsibility, she left the hospital, boarded a plane and returned to Moldova. As I mentioned earlier, all the Moldovans everywhere are welcome to return home, but they must do so responsibly. In this particular example we see a case of total irresponsibility.”
The woman’s son had a different story to tell: she did seek hospitalization, but was discharged after testing negative and after being told she had a non-viral pneumonia. In her son’s version, the woman simply didn’t have a choice but to return home after losing her job as a caregiver in an Italian home.
Moreover, at the moment, Moldova doesn’t have legal instruments to enforce a quarantine. Whereas other countries have such instruments – in Russia, one can face up to 5 years in prison, in the Czech Republic, fines can get as high as €130.000 for breaking isolation rules – in Moldova, the government relies on “common sense:”
RFE/RL Moldovan Service: “Is my understanding correct that today we don’t have any guarantees that [the people required to stay in quarantine] aren’t out there handing out Women’s Day bouquets?”
Nicolae Furtună, director of the National Agency for Public Health: “We do not have such a big number of family doctors to stand sentry beside everyone, nor do we have so many police officers to keep an eye on everyone. After all, we rely on everyone’s common sense.”
So the government is finding people to be irresponsible and still relies on their “common sense.” This happens as thousands of Moldovans coming in from Italy introduce false addresses in the epidemiological forms they are required to complete at the border in order to avoid being located by the authorities.
3. Are all the passengers of the Milan flight in isolation?
In an interview withRFE/RL Moldovan Service on March 9, Nicolae Furtună, director of the National Agency for Public Health, stated that all the passengers of the flight that carried a visibly ill woman – who went on to become Moldova’s first reported case – are now quarantined:
RFE/RL: “So how many people are now in quarantine?”
Nicolae Furtună: “Today we have [isolated] all the 132 passengers on that flight, except the stateless people. Plus, there are the people from the bus that today crossed [the border] at Leușeni, meaning about 40 others.”
Later, health minister Viorica Dumbrăveanu told reporters:
“Now we have a difficulty and namely 14 people from that flight couldn’t be [...] located because of the false information they introduced in the epidemiological forms they were required to complete. Today we will be working with the Ministry of the Interior to locate those people.”*
So who gave false information – was it the ANSP director, who claimed that all the people from that plane are now quarantined, or the minister, who says they cannot find 14 passengers?
2. Passengers of flight X are kindly asked
A staggering 8 hours after the plane with the first Moldovan Covid-19 case landed in Chisinau (the woman was visibly ill; she even passed out and needed the help of other passengers before being picked up by the ambulance), the Ministry of Health issued a press release asking the passengers to “self-isolate at home and notify their respective family doctor.”
The Ministry blundered, though, by mixing up the flights. In the issued press release, the flight was misidentified as Air Moldova/9U 480/Bologna, whereas in reality it should have said Wizzair/W6 3796/Milan.
1. We are ready for the coronavirus
On February 25, Igor Dodon inspected Toma Ciorba Hospital, Moldova’s main inpatient facility specialized in infectious diseases, to oversee the preparations for a potential outbreak. The President stated:
“I saw tens of beds to accommodate people here. If necessary, all the other hospitals will have special wards for [coronavirus] patients. The Government has this situation under control and has taken all the necessary measures.”
After the first Covid-19 patient was picked up from the Chisinau Airport in an ordinary ambulance, she was rushed to Toma Ciorba. But, as a doctor told sanatateinfo.md on condition of anonymity, the specialized hospital isn’t equipped with mechanical ventilators, so the woman had to be moved to a general hospital with better equipment.