Romania’s coalition rocked as PM sacks health minister over pandemic

Romania COVID

Romania’s Prime Minister Florin Citu sacked his health minister on Wednesday, in a move he said was in response to the country’s coronavirus epidemic but which threatens the future of his governing coalition.

Citu said Vlad Voiculescu’s dismissal would shore up citizens’ trust in state institutions.

Deputy Prime Minister Dan Barna, who heads the centre-right USR-Plus that Voiculescu is a member of, said Citu had acted without consulting the party and should himself be replaced.

“His decision … throws our ruling coalition into a major crisis,” Barna said.

The departure of Voiculescu, a 37-year-old economist who has promised to make the workings of Romania’s healthcare sector and hospitals more transparent, marks the first big shift in the coalition formed after a parliamentary election in December.

It comprises junior USR-Plus, Citu’s centrist Liberal Party and ethnic Hungarian Party UDMR. The three groups control roughly 56% of parliament, but without USR-Plus that falls to around 38%.

“To be successful in fighting the pandemic I have always said there is a need for trust in state institutions,” Citu said on sacking Voiculescu.

“To ensure (that) trust … endures, I have decided to make a change at the top of the health ministry.”

Voiculescu had faced a backlash from politicians and politically appointed health service managers over his reform plans.

He was in the process of replacing the heads of the health insurance agencies that control billions of euros in healthcare funds, many of whom observers say are political appointees.

Romania’s healthcare system is one of the European Union’s least developed and has a reputation for corruption and inefficiency, with many citizens lacking access to basic services.

Two fires and an oxygen tank malfunction at hospitals treating COVID-19 patients in November, January and this week killed or injured dozens.

Romania has reported 1.01 million coronavirus cases and 25,605 deaths, with more than 1,500 in intensive care. New daily infections have been steady at around 4,000 since March.

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