Romanians mobilise to help the vulnerable against virus threat

Bucharest (AFP) –


While most of their classmates headed home when Romania's universities shut to stop the spread of the coronavirus, Costica Pulbere and around 20 other students set out on a mission.

They are among the volunteers mobilising to organise home deliveries of essential supplies for the elderly and vulnerable.

Romania has so far recorded 158 infections and, in common with millions across Europe, Romanians are largely staying at home for fear of spreading or contracting the virus.

"We have three colleagues that handle incoming calls, make lists and ask for a few details so that we know the person really needs help," said Pulbere, 23, a student at Bucharest's civil engineering university.

"They send us a list on a Facebook group that we made and then some of us say: 'I'll take care of this order'," he said.

They publicise their scheme on social media and by posting fliers all over the city with details of how to get in touch.

"We can get through the pandemic in good health if each and every one of us does his part to avoid the overcrowding of hospitals," reads a message posted on Facebook by their student association.

On Sunday, they roamed the pharmacies in Bucharest in search of a drug for thyroid problems to help a sick woman.

The drug was nowhere to be found but they promised to resume looking the next day.

- Supporting the health system -

Carmen Uscatu, who co-founded the healthcare NGO "Give Life", says patients with chronic conditions are now in danger.

"We're trying to find a solution so that they don't have to constantly go out for drugs that are indispensible for them," Uscatu told AFP, adding that she's coordinating with doctors and has reached out to the government.

"If we find a way to help these people it will mean a great deal for the national health system," she added.

"Give Life" has also started a fundraising drive to buy ventilators and other medical equipment.

There are around 2,800 ventilators currently available nationwide in the country's hospitals, according to the government.

- 'Don't take the risk' -

President Klaus Iohannis has declared a state of emergency that took effect Monday, a move aimed notably at pumping more money into Romania's underfunded health system and enable medical equipment to be bought more quickly.

Schools and universities have been closed since last week, flights to and from Italy suspended and gatherings of more than 100 people banned.

The country's prime minister, Ludovic Orban, is himself in self-isolation after being in contact with a senator from his party who tested positive for COVID-19.

Another volunteer trying to combat the spread of the virus is Marian Raduna, a member of a civil society organisation called "Geeks for Democracy".

On Sunday, Raduna was doing his bit in a long queue at a hypermarket on the outskirts of Bucharest.

Stuffing three bags full of provisions for those who couldn't leave their homes, he spotted a woman in her 60s shopping on her own and advised her to stay at home from now on.

"We can do this for you, there's no need to take this risk," he told her.

"Geeks for Democracy" got involved in mobilising volunteers soon after the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Romania.

Now a network of 60 people is active in Bucharest alone, with others setting up similar groups in other parts of the country.

But are the volunteers confident that such initiatives make a difference against a pandemic?

"Yes," Uscatu said, "because right now all the signs from healthcare workers is that they are literally fighting this empty-handed.

"So we're trying to do our part".