Suspicion hangs over Romania, EU’s second least vaccinated country | Coronavirus pandemic news

Bucharest, Romania- “There is a quote from Mark Twain: It is easier to fool people than to persuade them to be fooled,” said Marius Mioc, a Romanian self-published author who clutched two of his latest books: Covid, The century lies.

“This is not a real epidemic, but hysteria. It is driven by politics and the desire to make money.”

Although he had previously sold books about the Romanian anti-communist revolution in 1989 in a local bookstore, Mioc found that the retailer did not want to store his latest work, which was first published in 2020 and sold for 45 Romanian lei (just over US$10) . He said it was all part of a conspiracy.

Romania has one of the lowest healthcare expenditures in Europe Health system Has been listed as the worst in the EU, doctors are preparing to meet Surge The fast-spreading variant of Omicron.

Adriana Pistol, the head of the Center for Infectious Diseases, recently warned that there may be a peak of 25,000 cases per day-a significant increase from the current 20 million country of about 1,800 cases per day. .

Some Western European countries may have higher numbers, but so are their populations.

Romania is the second least vaccinated country in the European Union, second only to its neighbor Bulgaria.

Protests against COVID-19 passes in Bucharest, RomaniaDuring a demonstration in Bucharest on December 21, Romanian protesters tried to force their way into parliament to oppose a proposal for a mandatory COVID-19 health pass [Emre Caylak/Al Jazeera]

“There is no single ideology against vaccination”

Approximately 60% of people over 65 years of age or with chronic diseases have not yet been vaccinated.

Less than 41% of the adult population received two jabs overall, because the rest of the world has entered the third time, and in the case of Israel, the fourth time.

As a result, weakened immunity Serious consequences At the end of last year, nearly 11,000 people were killed in the devastating fourth wave of infections that peaked in early November.

However, due to Against vaccines From worries about possible side effects to thinking that the entire pandemic is a scam, there is no easy way to solve this problem.

GlobalFocus Center political analyst and senior researcher Andrei Tiut (Andrei Tiut) said: “There is no single ideology against vaccination. There are many people who have reason to oppose and fear.”

According to experts from the Bucharest-based think tank, the government’s propaganda activities are missing and reliable information is not available.

Add to this the general distrust of the authorities—according to recent opinion polls, the trust in parliament is less than 12%.

What fills the gap is misinformation, which is usually more palatable than truth or hope in the form of “miracle cures,” which is widely disseminated in the country’s unregulated media.

Fear of the strict social control that was restored in the era of former leader Nicolae Ceausescu has also exacerbated suspicions about the epidemic.

A protester in Bucharest, Romania held up a sign that read "Covid = the prevalence of laboratory testing"A protester held up a sign that read’COVID = the prevalence of laboratory testing.If you test 1 million men with 98% accuracy, you will find 2,000 pregnant men [Emre Caylak/Al Jazeera]

“Freedom is in danger”

For Jonathan and Jonathan, 18 and 19 years old, first-year students at the University of Bucharest, the main issue surrounding vaccination is one of personal choices. They believe that measures such as COVID passports taken to encourage people to get vaccinated violated their freedom.

“We are the masters of our own system, and we are not sure whether the COVID vaccine is really effective,” said the elderly Jonathan, who claimed that these jabs are still in the experimental stage.

“I am not an anti-vaccine person, I only believe in freedom. Thirty-two years ago, freedom was born in the revolution, and now freedom is in danger.”

The 19-year-old student said that the two students often wore communist-era coats to remind people “where we came from, where we seem to desperately want to go back.”

Although they are deeply cynical about the government’s motives in responding to the COVID pandemic, like many other unvaccinated Romanians who talk to Al Jazeera, they believe in what they read online, especially those that are widely used. They believe that the controversial character was silenced for telling the truth.

One of the most frequently cited is Didier Raoult, a famous French scientist and virologist who claimed that hydroxychloroquine (usually used to treat autoimmune problems) is 100% effective in treating COVID Effective, thus gaining a fanatical following.

However, despite extensive scientific research on the drug, it has not been proven to be helpful in fighting the virus. In fact, there are dangerous side effects, such as a drop in blood pressure.

“I’m not sure about the vaccine. As far as I am concerned, I will not give it to him because I am young, healthy, and strong. COVID is the least of my problems-I am a student and I have various ​​Various problems,” young Jonathan said.

“When I’m not sure whether protecting it is the right way to fight it, why should I protect it?”

A medical professional handles a syringe in the COVID-19 department of the Emergency Hospital of the University of Bucharest, RomaniaRomania’s healthcare system has always been the worst in the EU [File: Vadim Ghirda/AP]

‘The public is naturally suspicious’

Oana Popescu-Zamfir, director of the GlobalFocus Center, said that because of Romania’s long history of corruption, many people believe that the government is selfish and not in the public interest.

“So when they try to persuade the public to do something, they naturally doubt it,” she said.

Since the 1989 revolution overthrew the former Communist Party leader, the Romanian government has been plagued by corruption. A series of corruption scandals in recent years has meant that the public is strongly aware that power can be abused.

Popescu-Zamfir said that the result is that people are satisfied with the idea that the authorities did not tell them the truth.

“All they know is [the truth is] It may not be what the government said,” she said.

Romania’s hesitation on vaccines is so strong that entrepreneurial social media influencers have seized this reason to increase their online followers.

Journalists, priests, parliamentarians, and even doctors—all of these positions are generally considered to have a certain degree of public responsibility—are heroes of the cause.

The two most divided far-right politicians, Diana Sosoaca and George Simion, recently protested in Parliament with slogans that read “Freedom without a certificate.”

They posted pictures on their social media accounts stating that they had successfully postponed the debate about mandatory COVID passports for employees, but no such topics were discussed that day.

For someone like Mioc who denies COVID, the sense of distrust is so deep that he questioned all global leaders and institutions. In his book, he claimed that the virus is a hoax, originally invented to quell the year-long Hong Kong protests, and the global leaders who were initially deceived by this lie are now continuing to use it to save face, and Not admitting that they were wrong.

“Everything else is just propaganda,” he said.

Protests against COVID-19 passes in Bucharest, RomaniaAmong the thousands of protesters rallying in Bucharest on December 21, the far-right politician Diana Sosoaca was one of them. [Emre Caylak/Al Jazeera]