Romania’s ruling coalition was rocked on Wednesday after Prime Minister Florin Citu fired the country’s health minister.
The prime minister said he made the move to bolster public confidence in state institutions during the pandemic which has stretched the East European nation’s resources. But a junior party asked for the prime minister to be replaced.
The firing of Vlad Voiculescu followed weeks of tensions in the ruling coalition on how to handle the pandemic .The recent deaths of Covid-19 patients in hospital fires and other incidents compounded the problems adding more pressure.
However, the firing plunged the coalition into further crisis, Deputy prime minister Dan Barna, who heads the centrist Save Romania-Plus group that Mr Voiculescu is a member of, said the prime minister had acted alone and should himself be replaced.
It was the first full-on crisis in the coalition which formed after December parliamentary elections. The coalition is formed from the center-right Liberal Party, the junior USR-Plus and the ethnic Hungarian party. The three parties have a slight majority.
In sacking the 37-year-old economist, the prime minister acknowledged the difficulties of handling the virus which has infected more than one million people and led to 25,600 deaths in Romania.
“This struggle has stretched the state’s resources to their limits, especially in the health system, but also in the economy,.” he said. „In order to be successful in this fight against the pandemic, we have always said there needs to be public confidence in the state institutions” which are dealing with the crisis.
„In order for people to continue to trust the state institutions,” I decided the dismiss the minister, he added.
He said the current centrist coalition was based on votes in the December 2020 elections and formed “ around values (and) ideas and not around people.”
He said he had faith in the ongoing vaccine rollout asking the public to place their trust in it. Some 2.37 million people have received at least one shot since the rollout began at the end of December.
„I urge everyone to register on the vaccine platform,” he said.
The premier appointed deputy Prime Minister Dan Barna as interim health minister. Deputy health minister Andreea Moldovan was also fired along with the minister.
The dismissals come a day after the opposition Social Democrat part submitted a motion of no-confidence against the beleaguered minister.
Middle of the night
Mr Voiculescu was heavily criticized after patients were evacuated from a Bucharest hospital in Bucharest in the middle of the night at short notice so it could be transformed into a Covid-19 facility,
In another setback, three Covid-19 patients died on Monday after the oxygen supply at a mobile intensive unit where they were being treated stopped working, shutting down ventilators. Even though the hospital is managed by the city hall, blame fell on the minister.
The last straw apparently was the announcement on Wednesday morning that the government didn’t plan to place Bucharest under lockdown over the Easter holidays.
The prime minister was reportedly irritated that he hadn’t been consulted before making the announcement.
Romania’s ageing and inefficient healthcare system saw two fires in Covid-19 wards in recent months. At least 18 patients died.
He is the second health minister to be dismissed since the pandemic began.