BUCHAREST (AFP) – Romania’s Prime Minister Ludovic Orban has been accused of breaking his own government’s coronavirus restrictions after a picture emerged of him smoking and drinking inside his office with several Cabinet members.
In the smartphone photo, Mr Orban is pictured smoking a cigarette surrounded by four Cabinet members, none of whom are wearing masks or practising social distancing.
Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu is seen holding a cigar, while masks lay on a table alongside bottles of alcohol.
Mr Eugen Teodorovici, a senator of the opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD), was one of the first to post the picture on social media.
“This is happening inside the PM’s office. This is what liberals do while governing. Shame on you”, he wrote on Facebook Friday (May 29).
Mr Orban said the picture was taken on May 25 – his 57th birthday.
“Some colleagues came by to surprise me. I gave them something to eat, a glass of wine, whisky. We weren’t wearing masks because we just finished eating”,Mr Orban told the Mediafax news agency.
Romania has reported more than 19,000 coronavirus cases and 1,253 deaths.
After two months of lockdown, Romania relaxed restrictions on May 15, when masks became mandatory in public transport and other enclosed public spaces.
All bars, pubs and restaurants are closed, with outdoor terraces due to reopen under strict conditions from June 1.
Former prime minister Dacian Ciolos, now leader of the Renew Europe group in the European Parliament, said Mr Orban should apologise.
“We’re in the middle of a public health crisis and every wrong step undermines the trust in authorities in a moment when it’s most needed”, Mr Ciolos wrote on Facebook.
While some expressed outrage that government officials weren’t respecting the rules, others turned the photo into memes.
“Romania’s government, the only restaurant open during the pandemic”, one meme read.
Mr Orban said he was willing to pay the fine for smoking indoors, which Romania banned in 2016.
“I’m a smoker, I made a human error and I admit it”, he said.
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