Romania’s Prime Minister, Florin Citu, on Wednesday dismissed Vlad Voiculescu as Minister of Health after a series of blunders that included the deaths of three COVID-19 patients after ventilators failed at a Bucharest mobile ICU.
“I have handed President Klaus Iohannis the necessary documents to revoke Vlad Voiculescu from his post as Minister of Health,” Citu said in a statement.
Voiculescu’s fellow USR PLUS alliance member Dan Barna, now a deputy prime minister, is assuming the position of Health Minister on an interim basis until a new nomination is made.
Voiculescu is part of the centrist alliance and was one of the biggest hopes of the young reformist party when the current tripartite coalition government was sworn in last December.
Some leaders of Prime Minister Citu’s National Liberal Party, PNL, have openly questioned Voiculescu’s fitness for the post in recent days.
He had come under criticism before the latest tragedy after a video was published last weekend showing non-COVID-19 patients carrying their belongings out of a Bucharest hospital in the middle of the night to make room for patients infected with the virus.
He was also accused of lacking empathy and professionalism last week for repeatedly denying the existence of a ministerial order, signed by a predecessor, which said that the bodies of COVID-19 patients who had been autopsied should be put in coffins naked, wrapped only in a bag.
Voiculescu eventually apologised and admitted to not knowing about the order, which he has since repealed.
Previously, he had come into conflict with mayors of both his own party and the PNL over discrepancies about the logistics of COVID vaccination and testing.
The 37-year-old former ONG activist gained the sympathy of many in Romania before entering politics when he led a project that imported medicines to treat cancer patients and organised summer camps for children suffering from the deadly disease.
He first became Minister of Health as part of the technocratic cabinet that governed Romania between November 2015 and January 2017.
This government took over from a Social Democratic government led by Victor Ponta, which resigned in November that year following massive protests, mainly over the failings in the health system exposed by a deadly nightclub fire in Bucharest on October 30, 2015.
A total of 65 concert-goers died, many of them due to delays in receiving treatment or from infections contracted in the underprepared hospitals they were admitted to.
Despite lacking political support in parliament, the technocratic government was credited with laying out important reforms in the administration, including in the health system.
Voiculescu and other members of that government set up a new party of mostly young professionals, PLUS, which joined the Save Romania Union to form USR PLUS, which is now Romania’s third largest party and a junior partner in the government.