They call it Romania’s Lombardy.
Besides being in the far north of the country just like Lombardy, Suceava county shares one more thing with the Italian region thousands of kilometers away: the unfortunate fame of being the flash point for the coronavirus pandemic in their countries.
Despite having about 3% of Romania’s total population, Suceava has about one-fifth of COVID-19 cases and more than a third of the deaths nationwide.
It started in late late February when a 71-year-old man from Suceava caught a bus from Lombardy to Suceava. The bus crossed into Romania on February 28.
On March 2, the unnamed man was admitted to the Suceava County Hospital with fever, a cough and a sore throat. He was the sixth person in Romania to test positive for COVID-19. The infection spread through the hospital which failed to follow proper medical procedures to contain the deadly virus.
Romanian health ministry official Nelu Tartaru on Wednesday revealed that an astonishing 34 medics and 49 nursing staff had tested positive for COVID-19 at the hospital which has 233 medical staff.
Out of Romania’s 13 deaths to date, five were elderly patients who died at the Suceava hospital, likely having contracted the disease there.
The hospital has been shut and is being disinfected and authorities are scrambling to contain the outbreak. Medics are awaiting the results of tests on the hospital’s 124 patients.
Mediafax news agency reported Wednesday that one unnamed nurse without protective equipment was treating 25 patients. Another nurse said that medics had not been tested, other medics had admitted themselves to hospital to avoid responsibility for the situation, while some medical staff had infected their families as they did not have protective equipment.
An internal inquiry at the hospital has uncovered mismanagement and irregularities in testing procedures.
Romania is way behind Italy in the number of infections, which on Wednesday reported 69,176 cases and 6,820 deaths.
But worse is expected to come with a peak in April. On Wednesday, Romania announced a total of 906 cases, more than double a week ago, and thirteen deaths.
Health authorities say Suceava county, which borders Ukraine, has 170 cases including the medics. That’s almost one-fourth of Romania’s total cases.
Romania has a population of 19 million, while just 634,000 live in Suceava county.
Among the people who contracted coronavirus from the hospital was Gheorghe Flutur, a former agriculture minister who is currently the chairman of the Suceava County Council.
Patients who test positive will be sent to medical facilities at Radauti and Falticeni if their symptoms are mild, or to the large regional hospital in the northern city of Iasi for serious cases. Patients who test negative will be sent into self-isolation.