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Thursday, 23 April

Prime Minister Ludovic Orban’s visit at the "Cantacuzino" National Medical-Military Research and Development Institute

Press statements by Prime Minister Ludovic Orban at the "Cantacuzino" National Medical-Military Research and Development Institute


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Ludovic Orban: Good afternoon. I have just paid a visit to the Cantacuzino Institute, together with Mr Minister of Defense and Mr Minister of Health, to see the situation at the institute. We found out about the current situation and the projects of the "Cantacuzino" Institute. I will tell you, briefly, about the laboratory where COVID tests are performed: the laboratory has a capacity of 500 tests per day, which can be increased according to the needs. I visited the biosafety laboratory, which is already operational. Of course, there are some devices and equipment that are about to be installed and then, it can become fully operational. The "Cantacuzino" Institute has several projects, including the resumption of the flu vaccine production.

Basically, there is only one piece of equipment missing: the collector of allantoic fluid which is extracted from the inoculated eggs. Following the purchase of this equipment, we can proceed to the preparation of the production line, in order to be able to produce the flu vaccine again. A new product is also being prepared and it will be launched on the market, it is an immunomodulator that regulates the level of antibodies. Another large project is to be funded by European funds, which aims to produce the tetravalent vaccine - in another location, not at these premises of the Cantacuzino Institute.

I appreciate the feverish activity going on here. I especially appreciate the work of the new manager, who is crisis manager, he has been appointed, practically, since the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic, and I am confident that the team here has the ability to rebuild the Cantacuzino Institute and restore the mission it had and must have in Romania.

Reporter: You talked about the testing capacity here, 500 tests per day. How much will it increase in the next period?

Ludovic Orban: Up to 1000 tests.

Reporter: And what is the present national capacity? How many tests?

Ludovic Orban: The team here also requested to enter the staff training program that will operate new PCR centers.

Reporter: How many tests are performed currently nationwide?

Ludovic Orban: The capacity is much higher than the number of tests performed. The nominal capacity is eight thousand tests, today, in 61 locations, 61 centers where such types of devices operate. Our goal is to further increase this testing capacity so that we can test as much as necessary, according to the protocol, according to the procedure regulated by the National Institute of Public Health.

Reporter: You mentioned resuming the flu vaccine production here, at Cantacuzino. Is there any intention or project to create a vaccine against coronavirus?

Ludovic Orban: Investigations regarding this virus can be conducted within the laboratory. Obviously, I cannot give you an answer regarding the effective capacity, but investigations will surely be made.

Reporter: Did you supplement the personnel and relocate doctors from other institutes to increase this testing capacity? Is the Institute ready from a logistical point of view with equipment at this stage? How many PCRs are here?

Ludovic Orban: Concerning PCR, the answer to this question: I did not see them all, I saw a very modern device, a semi-automatic extractor that was recently put into operation. The laboratory is in constant motion. The capacity will increase and you will realize that expertise is also accumulated, as long as they have asked the Ministry of Health to join the training program of those who operate on PCR. It will continue to develop. People were hired. Even at the production line where the immunomodulator is about to be produced, there was a new employee recently hired for exactly this activity. It is also necessary to employ people in the biosafety laboratory, but it is not easy to find employees. I understand that the number of employees is about 600. It has increased a lot, researchers have been brought back, new researchers have been hired and there is clearly a mobilization to strengthen the Institute's ability to research and produce things that are needed.

Reporter: President Klaus Iohannis announced yesterday that mask-wearing will be mandatory after May 15, in enclosed public spaces and on public transport. I wanted to ask you our situation in terms of production, stocks, if we have enough masks for Romania’s entire population and if you have certain measures for the underprivileged population, for the low-income people who could not afford to buy masks?

Ludovic Orban: Certainly, we have been discussing this issue for about a week regarding mask-wearing. I repeat, wearing a mask indoors is very useful, as it prevents the transmission of particles and reduces the possibility of infection in public transport, indoors, in offices, in commercial spaces. You know that our preoccupation from the beginning of the epidemic was to back Romanian producers to start manufacturing such masks. These are masks known as surgical masks. We already have new equipment installed, with a significant production capacity, we make an inventory of all the companies that have received the agreement. You know that we made the decision that the Defence Ministry makes the certification, the authorization of the manufacturers for such equipment because otherwise, things would have been very difficult. We will try to ensure full capacity. We will also try to find a formula to distribute these masks for free, to vulnerable people, who receive the minimum guaranteed income.

Reporter: The Economy Minister announced that about one million masks could be daily produced as of May. Is this a realist figure, can we reach this production capacity?

Ludovic Orban: If the Economy Minister said so, it means it is so. I hope we will boost this production capacity. We will need to produce significant amounts until May 15. We should also try to purchase additional amounts of masks from external providers. Unifarm has already big quantities. I understood that it is more than 4 million surgical masks. There are millions of FPP2 şi FPP3 masks. We are in a much better situation after the shortage at the start. Surely, the obligation to wear masks will lead to a daily consumption bigger than existing amounts, but I am sure that private economic actors, such as eMAG whom I want to publicly thank as well as the group of companies working with eMAG, for the special effort they made whereby they managed to purchase and made available, as a donation, millions of masks to various public entities involved, or they sold them on the free market at the purchase price.

Reporter: You are probably aware, the medical director of the Hospital from Suceava, Mircea Macovei, will resume his position. He's the one who turned the hospital into a hotspot for coronavirus. Does his return to the office seem justified to you?

Ludovic Orban: I am sure that the Health Minister Nelu Tătaru will make the best decisions.

Anchor: As regards the furlough measure and the 25 percent cut in the dignitaries’ allowances, are these measures still valid?

Ludovic Orban: This is not a topical subject for the time being.

Reporter: I would like to ask you what does the economic recovery plan include and what are the steps for the return to normal life?

Ludovic Orban: We are in the process of designing this plan. Practically, we are analyzing all the restrictive measures, respectively we are analyzing all the affected sectors. We will establish a mechanism to evaluate each measure, the lifting of each restrictive measure that has been imposed, what the epidemiological risk is, what the set of measures that must accompany the lifting of the restriction must be, so as to reduce the spread risk. When we have an assessment, and also the economic impact of lifting some restrictions, when we have a well-developed plan, we will obviously let you know. We will anyhow announce the lifting of restrictions with a certain time ahead, as President Iohannis has already announced that restrictions regarding the movement of all Romanian citizens will be lifted after May 15.

Reporter: Please tell us, Mr Prime Minister, what is the stage of the monitoring application that you announced, alongside those from STS for quarantined and isolated people.

Ludovic Orban: I need to tell you that there is a serious debate in the Romanian society regarding the use of applications and if there are applications, there will be only applications that the citizen may install, provided he wants. We are towards the end of the state of emergency, analyses will be conducted to see if such applications are needed anymore, and I understand there are 19 countries that are using these applications and such applications are being used only with the express agreement of the citizen.

Reporter: And one question, if you will allow me: will there be a health passport or a certificate for the citizens who went through this infection, which will give them the right, I don't know, to go on vacation, to travel.

Ludovic Orban: Are you referring to those who acquired immunity following this first epidemic wave?

Reporter: Yes, those who ...

Ludovic Orban: I have not taken a decision related to this topic. Surely, any decision Romania takes, must be regarded in the European context. In Europe, due to the freedom of movement, due to the fact that it is a common space, anything that happens in a European country, can impact in a certain way another European country. We need to look very closely at what the other partner countries in the European Union are doing. There is a document that has been presented by the European Commission on the measures for the return to normalcy, and there, some coordination is obviously assumed. The measures must be notified, there must be a permanent dialogue at the European level and we will take decisions in this context.

Reporter: You said that the furlough for the state employees is no longer topical, why is it so?

Ludovic Orban: As we are nearing the end of the state of emergency, and as a large part of those who work in public institutions are in the front-line of the battle, such as the Health Ministry, (...) one cannot relinquish anyone in the scope of the Health Ministry, on the contrary, we need additional specialists. The Defense Ministry, the Ministry of the Interior, the Labor Ministry - which is involved in carrying out all the support programs for the furloughed personnel, and the other form of support for professionals. A considerable part of the public sector is running full throttle. We are anyway approaching the end of the extended state of emergency which will happen on May 15, and the relevant context is no longer there. We have looked at the matter and in the end, it is no longer topical.

Reporter: Is this measure scrapped for good?

Ludovic Orban: It's no longer topical. We'll see.


As regards the furlough measure for those working including in the private sector. Is there enough money to meet all demands over this period?

Ludovic Orban: With regard to the furlough measure, we have the necessary resources for the first period, they are included in the budget. Also, they will be partly defrayed from the EU budget, from the allocations for Romania. We have the resources and we are preparing the economic recovery measures, which will obviously have to take into account the relaxation plan, the steps for returning to normalcy, how they affect the various economic activities, we are preparing the support measures.

Reporter: Could we expect the first set of relaxation measures over the next week?

Ludovic Orban: We are analyzing them. Here I said a few simple things, we need to have an accurate evaluation of the situation, on each area of activity. Two: We need to evaluate all the available resources that we can mobilize, the financial resources as well. And here, the analysis, in addition to the funds we have in the budget, we have the European funds, which we can use for economic recovery programs. For example, following the European Commission's decision to increase the flexibility of funds, we can make available an amount for small and medium-sized enterprises, for a support program of 750 million euros, this is a date we can rely on, but there are still other resources as well.

Within the SURE Programme, we will have the resources for active measures to support hiring by companies, and we will add extra resources from the budget. We are also considering the possibility to seek financial resources from institutional lenders such as the World Bank, EBRD with which we also have an agreement for supporting EU-funded projects before the expenditures are settled, with EBRD supporting us perform the payments before their settlement from the EU budget. We need to make an inventory of all resources at our disposal.

We need to see what the best measures, the most appropriate instruments are, taking into account our objectives - namely resuming the economic activity in as many sectors as possible, even seizing the opportunities that have emerged to develop new businesses or the existing companies and also to try to offer as many jobs as possible, following the job loss and the fact that some of the out-of-country Romanians will need to find a job.

We are speeding up the procedures on everything related to investment projects. We have issued an emergency ordinance to simplify procedures, which reduced deadlines, we are in a massive mobilization to be able to contract the works eligible for EU financing, either under the Large Infrastructure Operational Program, the Regional Operational Program, or other programs, so that we can launch a public investment plan for transport infrastructure, energy infrastructure. It's a well-known fact that Transgaz, Transelectrica, Romgaz, all the companies have very ambitious investment plans so that we can maintain this economic development engine as active as possible.

Reporter: Is there any likelihood for the masks price to be capped considering that it will be mandatory to wear them?

Ludovic Orban: We are thinking about this topic.

Reporter: The flu vaccine which could be produced over the next period, which you also spoke about, could its price be capped or even to be distributed for free?

Ludovic Orban: The flu vaccine?

Reporter: Yes.

Ludovic Orban: As regards the production of the flu vaccine, it will not be produced this year, I tell you from the beginning. There is a set of testing procedures, validation, commissioning of a production line. Most likely, it will be ready next year. But, here we had discussions at the level of the Ministry of Health and we try to find solutions for a wider vaccination of the citizens because this will help us in case of the second wave of coronavirus, because, who was vaccinated against the flu, if he has symptoms, more than likely he has coronavirus, not the flu.

Reporter: Do you prepare for a second wave in October or later?


Ludovic Orban: We do not know yet. Frankly, we are looking carefully at all the specialists’ estimates, not only in Romania but also in other countries as well. Opinions do not coincide, we are preparing for any possible variant.

Reporter: Could you be facing a pension payment related issue, considering that the pension payment might be affected at the budget execution? Thank you.

Ludovic Orban: We certainly have as a priority the payment of pensions and we will ensure the financial resources for the payment of pensions, for the payment of salaries, for the support of investments. For all these things we will provide financial resources. We have in mind the economic recovery. All the analyses of the specialists indicate, practically, an evolution in "v" of the economy. After a decline that is quite sudden and large, after overcoming the epidemic, the peak of the epidemic, there is a forecast of fairly rapid economic growth. If you look at the forecasts, no matter who makes these forecasts, it indicates an economic decline this year in Romania and an economic growth for next year, which varies between 4.1 and 6.1 in 2021.

The payment of pensions is definitely a priority for us and we will provide the financial resources for the payment of pensions and wages, for the support of investments, we will ensure the financial coverage for all this,

Reporter: Mr Prime Minister, concerning schools, do you support the possibility to resume classes immediately after May 15?

Ludovic Orban: We will make this decision together with the President, with the team at the Education Ministry on the basis of estimates which are conducted by the Health Ministry and will be taken depending on the epidemiological crisis and the actual capacity to reduce to a minimum any risk of our children getting sick.

Reporter: Did you manage to make stocks of disinfectants for schools? Is it possible for classrooms to be refurbished in all schools? Can the daily curricula be reduced? Do you have plans in this respect?

Ludovic Orban: At present, I would rather not give you any information, as long as decisions are not being made following evaluation and planning. You know I avoid presenting things just 'because I believe it so." We are analyzing what the needs are - in case the reopening decision is made - the specific measures that need to be taken. We must ensure masks for all children and for all teachers. There are measures that must be prepared and, depending on the decision, they will be taken.

Reporter: When are you going to make a decision regarding the cap on the masks price?

Ludovic Orban: You know it has been discussed a lot about price caps. Economic history, for those who have read economic history, ascertains that in most cases, when such measures have been taken, if the intervention on the market has generated an administrative price that has nothing to do with the supply-demand ratio, this has in fact led to a shortage, illicit sale networks appeared, which, in the end, deprived the vast majority of people of the products on which prices were capped and led to the distribution of these products. I believe that here we must ensure a supply at the level of demand and this is the objective we have, to produce in Romania as much as possible and to import what we do not produce enough here.

Reporter: Regarding the plan that Mr. Adrian Streinu-Cercel presented, a plan that was also disapproved by President Klaus Iohannis, and by you, I wanted to ask you: aren’t you of the opinion that it was necessary to sack Mr. Adrian Streinu-Cercel or impose a sanction on him?

Ludovic Orban: This question can be answered by Minister Tătaru, who I am convinced will have something to tell you on this subject. But I tell you again, that's nonsense, I haven't seen any greater stupidity. I don't know if you read that document, you say it was drawn up in the '50s, 1950s, willing to give everyone everything, according to needs, with the state that takes care of everything, takes over the distribution of electricity, water, utilities, no one pays taxes anymore, the state solves everything. That's crazy, I'm telling you honestly. It shouldn't be taken seriously either, and the issue - I really wonder if it appeared by accident or not – the idea with the quarantine of our parents and grandparents, with the breakup of families. These are matters of extreme severity, which must be treated not only with a smile but with measures as well.

Reporter: If you can tell us what exactly will happen after May 15? Romanians are quite excited. They have even started making salon appointments or they believe in a complete resumption of activity. /.../

Ludovic Orban: For the time being, it is certain that what President Klaus Iohannis announced will happen, namely that the traffic restrictions will be lifted, meaning that Romanians will no longer have to give a statement on their own responsibility, they will no longer be obliged to stay indoors, to leave homes only for the reasons listed in the military ordinances. They will be free to move, of course, following the rules of not creating crowds. That is no more than three persons to gather in public spaces, so as to avoid as much physical contact as possible.

Reporter: What about salons, restaurants, bars opening?

Ludovic Orban: As regards each economic activity, I repeat an analysis will be conducted and according to it, a decision will be made concerning the date when a respective restriction will be lifted. Nothing has been announced so far. We are analyzing, we are preparing a plan. We will announce any restriction that will be lifted, a certain time before its lifting and any lifting of a restriction will be accompanied by a plan of measures, rules that will have to be observed after the respective restriction is lifted. Thank you!

Reporter: This important project for our economy, IMM Invest has not been working for a week. Did you talk to the Finance Minister when is this application resumed? The entrepreneurs are waiting and want loans for this programme.

Ludovic Orban: It will be operational as soon as possible.

Reporter: What does this mean?

Ludovic Orban: We have faced problems with the application that was used. Following emerging issues, a new application is being built, which will be well –certified, 100 percent functional, I cannot give a date when this happens. The Minister of Finance will let you know about it, with the support of the partners working on this project when he is 100 percent sure that the platform is functional.

I would like to convey a message. I have seen a lot of misinformation. It is not about the 'first come, first served' principle, as it was the case, for example, of de minimis aid. This is simply an application registration. The guarantee fund analyzes, processes each application of each company, and subsequently, the banks involved in this project will make decisions regarding the granting of loans for working capital or investment. It will be operational as soon as possible.

 There should be no concern from the business sector, from small and medium-sized enterprises. All eligible companies will benefit from the incentives provided for. We have raised the ceiling from the initial ceiling of 5 billion to the ceiling of 15 billion lei. The banking system was also interested. Banks have subscribed for a larger capital, of more than 20 billion lei, so there is virtually a determination on the part of banks to get involved in financing campaigns within SME Invest. As such, they should have confidence that the program will be functional and there will be the easiest access possible. Thank you!

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