Thousands marched Saturday in Bucharest to protest restrictions that begin Sunday to combat a jump in coronavirus infections.

The European nation of 19 million is seeing a shocking rise in the daily number of coronavirus cases. A month ago, the number was about 1,000 new cases a day. On Saturday, Romania reported more than 12,500 new cases, its highest number since the pandemic began in March 2020. 

Protesters, mostly maskless, gathered outside government offices, shouting, “Freedom, freedom without certificates,” and “Down with the government,” according to Reuters. One sign read: “Green certificates = dictatorship,” The Associated Press reported. 

The demonstration was organized by Romania’s far-right AUR party, the AP said. 

The rising cases have strained the nation’s hospitals — intensive care beds are nearly full — and the protests angered some medical workers. 

“The situation in hospitals is serious,” Beatrice Mahler, hospital manager of Bucharest’s Marius Nasta Institute of Pneumology, told the AP. “We have patients hospitalized in beds in the hallway — all with extremely severe forms of COVID-19.” 

The restrictions scheduled to take effect Sunday include requiring masks to be worn in public and shops to close at 10 p.m. local time.

Public spaces such as restaurants, theaters and gyms can remain open — some at only partial capacity — for customers who have COVID-19 passes, meaning they are fully vaccinated or show proof they have had the illness caused by the coronavirus. 

Romania has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the European Union; 33.5% of all adults are fully vaccinated, second only to Bulgaria. 

There is a weekend curfew in effect for unvaccinated Romanians, and there are plans to make vaccinations mandatory for health care workers, Reuters said. 

Since the pandemic began, Romania has recorded nearly 1,250,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 37,000 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center. 

Russia’s vaccine 

Russia’s health minister, Mikhail Murashko, said Saturday that some paperwork needed to be finished before its Sputnik V vaccine could be registered with the World Health Organization (WHO). 

The shot has been approved in more than 70 countries and is used widely in Russia. If it wins approval from the WHO and the European Medicines Agency, that could make it available to other markets, Reuters said. 

The WHO could not be immediately reached for comment, Reuters added. 

Nicaragua shots 

Nicaragua has OK’d two Cuban-made vaccines for use in the Central American nation, Cuban manufacturer BioCubaFarma said Saturday. 

Cuba developed three coronavirus vaccines, all of which are awaiting official recognition by the WHO, Reuters reported. Nicaragua authorized Abdala and Soberana for emergency use. 

Iran, Vietnam and Venezuela have also OK’d the Cuban vaccines for emergency use in their countries. 

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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