Why doesn’t COVID-19 recede? Who should do and what should be done? IPN debate

The public health situation in Moldova is worrisome as the number of people infected with the novel coronavirus rises constantly and the figure is much higher that the number of cases reported in the countries of the region. The stages of the crisis, where the authorities and the population acted incorrectly and the steps that should be taken immediately to prevent things from degenerating were discussed by experts invited to a public debate entitled “Why doesn’t COVID-19 recede? Who should do and what should be done?” that was staged by IPN News Agency.

Igor Boțan, the standing expert of IPN’s project, said he sees four stage of the pandemic crisis in Moldova. The first stage started in January, when the Moldovan authorities turned their attention to the propagation of the virus. Later, the epidemiological situation was examined by the National Extraordinary Commission for Public Health, on February 2, 2020. In the period, the Moldovan authorities came into contact with the World Health Organization (WHO), with Chinese officials, with China’s Ambassador to Moldova, who informed the authorities about aspects of the pandemic. The second stage occurred in February, when the Commission successively issued a yellow alert, an orange alert and a red alert in the period between February 24 and March 13. The last alert was issued after six cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Moldova and the WHO on March 11 declared a public health emergency of international concern. In the period, the National Extraordinary Commission for Public Health adopted a number of important decisions, such as the suspension of the education process and air traffic, interruption in activity of recreational facilities, temporary halt in commercial activities, etc.

The third stage began formally on March 17, when Parliament declared a state of emergency in Moldova for a 60-day period. In the period, the National Extraordinary Commission for Public Health was substituted by the Commission for Exceptional Situations that adopted about 30 orders aimed at containing the COVID-19 pandemic. The fourth stage started when the state of emergency was lifted and the National Extraordinary Commission for Public Health resumed work, adopting 25 decisions in the process of preventing the spread of the virus. Currently, Moldova is at the fourth stage. The third stage was managed by the political class that adopted a number of documents and formed a number of crisis management bodies. In that period, it was decided to amend the Contravention Code and impose fines on those who contribute to spreading the virus. Current statistics show Moldova is on the last spots out of 16 countries in Europe.

Ala Tokarchuk, public health expert, said any health crisis has three large stages: preparatory, response and recovery. The preparatory stage in Moldova started in 2008, when the WHO warned the countries about the risk of the appearance of a pathogen agent, recommending that the countries should have an accredited laboratory, epidemiologists in districts, rules in each hospital concerning the management of the pathogen agent. In Moldova, all these measures were probably prepared and were to be only activated. The response stage began in January and all the actions taken by now represented the country’s response to the pandemic. “We are yet at the response stage as we haven’t yet reached the recovery stage,” stated the expert.

Ala Tokarchuk noted that the number of infections in Moldova increased a lot because a particular crisis management phase was managed improperly. “I presume that not everything was managed well, judging by the experience of the countries that already report a low number of daily infections. This shows that if everything is done on time, the wave is diminished, the situation can be controlled or the virus controls. I think the most serious mistakes were made when monitoring the virus transmission contacts. The process of identifying infected people was appropriate,” stated the expert. She underlined that an infected person during a week has 50 to 100 contacts. When there are 50 infected persons a day, if all the contacts of these persons are considered, another 5,000 people should be tested and mandatorily isolated, even if they do not have symptoms. In Moldova, they decided to make the people stay at home and the time was lost here.

According to Adrian Lupușor, executive director of the Independent Think Tank “Expert-Grup”, the crisis has evident economic effects and there are a number of propagation stages. The first stage was the sudden reduction of the sales and incomes of firms following the imposed administrative restrictions that also led to a diminution of budget revenues. At another stage, the companies reduced the salary costs. The companies didn’t hurry to lay people off, but cut the costs, keeping the employees, but with lower salaries. This also affected the companies’ investment activity and had an impact on the budget, in turn. One of the evident causes why the anti-crisis policies at economic level were so passive was the substantial narrowing of the fiscal space in which the Government works. The third stage, of the present, is the essential slowdown of economic growth and the reduction in investment activity and incomes.

“The fourth stage is approaching and this is rather difficult and risky for the economy as, if the Government does not implement a new package of anti-crisis measures that would effectively support the private sector, we can expect a rise in the number of bankruptcies in the private sector. This will first of all fuel the unemployment rate and will have much more serious effects on the population’s incomes and budget revenues. The bank portfolios will be seriously affected. We can also witness challenges to the macro-financial situation in the country,” stated Adrian Lupușor.

The debate “Why doesn’t COVID-19 recede? Who should do and what should be done?” was the 139th installment of the series of debates “Developing political culture through public debates” that are supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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