- May 4, 2020

This is one story as part of the Voices of People with Disabilities during COVID19 Outbreak series

On 21 April 2020, Romania reported a major COVID-19 outbreak at a large residential facility for people with disabilities in the village of Sasca Mică in the northeast of the country. It was communicated that 242 of the 369 residents and 59 of the 86 members of staff at the Neuropsychiatric Recovery and Rehabilitation Centre tested positive. The authorities adopted urgent measures that involved separating infected residents from staff. While those residents that tested positive for COVID-19 were quarantined in a separate building within the Sasca Mică complex, the staff were admitted to nearby hospitals. No explanation has been offered for this difference in treatment, which also departed from existing rules and practices in Romania that require the hospitalisation of all symptomatic carriers of the COVID-19 virus.

Sasca Mică is one of the largest residential facilities in Romania, which has recently received significant European Union funding for renovation work. Nonetheless, according to recent information, living conditions in the Centre remain sub-standard. In particular, the 250-bed-building where the infected residents are quarantined has large dormitories, bunk beds, and its upper stories are inaccessible for those who use a wheelchair. Access to the facility for external monitors has become virtually impossible. 

On 24 April, the authorities informed the public about the first fatality – an 80-year-old resident – who was exposed at the origin of the outbreak.

Additional COVID-19 outbreaks in residential facilities for older persons and persons with disabilities across Romania have also recently been reported. In a parallel development, a hospital in Deva, in central Romania, forcibly discharged ten COVID-19 patients with psychosocial disabilities under the pretext that they were difficult to manage. As a result, they too were returned to the institution were they lived and placed in a separate building under quarantine.

On 27 of April, a case was reported of another psychiatric institution in Romania: the Neuropsychiatric Rehabilitation and Recovery Center in Costana. 68 of the 154 residents are infected with COVID-19 and 35 out of 103 staff tested positive. Staff was hospitalized but patients were not, they were isolated in another building.

International action

This situation has been subject to a letter for the Romanian authorities. Eight organisations of persons with disabilities and other organisations advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities, including IDA, sent an urgent appeal to ensure equal access to COVID-19 medical treatment for residents of Sasca Mică Centre and other institutions for persons with disabilities and older persons in Romania.         

The urgent appeal was sent to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Labour and Social Protection, signed by the European Network on Independent Living, European Disability Forum, Romanian National Disability Council, Validity Foundation, Disability Rights International, International Disability Alliance, International Disability and Development Consortium and the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria.

National and international obligations

Romania is a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the European Convention on Human Rights and the Revised Social Charter,  meaning it must ensure access to health and protect life, without discrimination.

While the Romanian government adopted the UN CRPD in January 2011, they have never reported to the Committee and their report is now seven years overdue. An initial report must be submitted two years after the report, the absence of which blocks the Committee’s review process on progress made towards the implementation of the Convention. 

COVID-19 and Romania 

The first known case of COVID-19 in Romania was confirmed in Gorj County (North West of the country) on February 26, 2020. As of March 31, a minimum of 200 cases per day were confirmed. Currently, the most affected cities are Suceava and Bucharest, totalling almost half of the number of infected people in Romania.

On May 2, 2020, 12,732 cases of coronavirus infection were confirmed in the country. 4,547 were cured and released from the hospital. So far, a number of 755 deaths was reported.

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