As students stopped attending schools due to the measures taken to fight the pandemic caused by coronavirus, the educational institutions from Moldova turn more and more of their attention to the online lessons alternative.
So far, the physical attendance of classes was interrupted in all schools of the country until March 31.
Last week, the methodology regarding the distance continuation of the educational process under quarantine circumstances was approved by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Research of the Republic of Moldova. The guideline aimed to answer the most important questions regarding the further organisation of the educational process. Among the highlighted tools were use of information technologies and digital teaching materials in order to communicate, teach and interact with students.
Some parents have already shared the experience of their children while attending online classes on zoom.us, for example. “This is how a virtual class is organised, in which the teacher sees everyone and asks questions, names the one who has to answer,” specified one of such parents.
“First, it was unusual and loud. After that, children got used to it, followed the rules and it turned to be quite effective. In the afternoon, they do their homework. We film, take photos and provide them to teachers,” added another parent.
The recommended by Moldovan teachers online educational platforms are Zoom.us, Google Classroom, studii.md, Proprofs, socrative.com, learning.apps, Kahoot, quizizz.com, Classtime, Wordwall, ClassTools, Onlinetestpad, Microsoft teams, Learning app, Livresq, etc.
The need of continuation of the educational process made possible the massive adoption of such electronic platforms as studii.md, which is a platform developed with the contribution of UNDP and the Center of Excellence Tekwill, aiming to modernise the education process and gradually transfer it into electronic format.
The platform is currently used by 25 schools, while another 88 educational institutions have requested to be connected to it. Teachers have the opportunity to upload video lessons from their computer or mobile phone, attach teaching materials to homework, leave comments with explanations and observations. Students can address questions in comments, attach files with the tasks to be verified by the teacher. All users have access to electronic agendas and registers, the schedule of lessons, while the administration also has the possibility to generate statistical reports.
Another important educational project initiated in this period is Future Classroom Lab – a pilot project based on a public-private partnership that claims to offer a new concept in pedagogy, “offering an open and inspirational learning space with innovative approaches, using digital technologies,” as the official page of the project describes it.
Within the pale of the project, video tutorials for students preparing for the graduating exams of the summer 2020 session are already posted.
Also, a public TV station announced that it will broadcast the educational video tutorials for final exams preparation, informed the Ministry of Education, Culture and Research representatives.
Chisinau City Hall is developing an online library of video lessons recorded in the studios of higher education institutions in the capital city. The online library will be accessible to all beneficiaries of the education system in the municipality, with the possibility of extension for students from all over the country.
The Information and Career Guidance Center of the Technical University of Moldova announced that final exams preparation courses in mathematics and computer science will be continuously organised, the videos being live-streamed on Facebook.
According to the authorities, all educational institutions are equipped with computers. It is provided that teachers who do not have the necessary internet or equipment at home can access the resources in schools, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Research claiming that it makes sure, in this period, that each school is equipped with all necessary facilities.
However, there are still children who do not have computers at home or are not connected to the internet all over the country. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, 52.3% of Moldovan families have at least one computer at home, those from rural areas having a visible disadvantage when compared to families from cities. At the same time, the same source said that only 41% of the population of Moldova has a computer and 38.7% have internet access.
Still, who knows how fast things can improve driven by the urge to resist in such a volatile environment created by the current pandemic situation. And maybe we could understand, one day, that education can be moved online, at least partially.
Quarantined in a Moldovan village – the paradox of measures imposed by authorities
The Republic of Moldova registered, according to the most updated information from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Protection, 591 confirmed cases, 190 suspected cases and 9 deaths because of COVID-19. The cases are spread all over the country, but most of cases are concentrated in 3 risk areas – Chisinau, which includes 39% of the cases of infection, Stefan Voda – 14% of cases and Soroca – 12% of all cases.
As Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) reported, 18 971 persons are isolated at home and 5 632 persons were verified regarding the way they are isolated.
At the same time, there are several cities and villages in Moldova where the local authorities have imposed partial or full lockdown due to the registered deaths related to coronavirus outbreaks. While the Government never clearly reported on what happens in such localities, some local authority representatives and residents started to talk about the quarantine situation.
They say that police patrol cars were placed at the entrance and exit of localities and no one can leave or enter the village or city, without a good reason. The public transportation and all public and private entities, except medical offices, post offices and groceries stores, stopped their activity.
The paradox of Balceana
People of Balceana village, Hancesti district, one of the first villages from Moldova where the lockdown was installed, told ZdG that things have changed a lot since the first day of lockdown. At the moment, all their activities are forbidden: they can no longer receive medicine packages from their relatives and they cannot perform their farming activities related to cultivating crops – one of their main source of obtaining food throughout the year.
Moreover, in order to be able to leave or enter the village, to move or pick up packages from the improvised station when entering the village, people must hold and present to the police officers a permit issued by the City Hall. However, the mayor of the village said that he received the prohibition to issue such permits for local people from the MIA officials.
“I have the indication that no permit is issued to any person, because we are quarantined. Only sick people leave the village with an ambulance and only those who are recovered and healthy, holding a medical certificate from a doctor, can enter the village.”
The mayor of Balceana village said that the situation in which people got in is a “terrible one” and that he hardly manages to cope with the complaints coming from villagers. Some villagers must pay back their bank loans. For that they would need to continue to work their lands, which they are not allowed to do due to not holding permits issued by mayor. The mayor is not allowed by authorities to issue such permits.
The paradox exists while the quarantine instructions allow short trips for acquiring food, medicines, for obtaining medical assistance, going to the funeral of relatives or farming activities. The situation got so confusing, that the officers do not allow people to perform even officially permitted activities without the authorisation that is impossible to be obtained.
The MIA response
The officials of the MIA claimed that an internal service investigation was initiated after the declarations were published by ZdG. Secretary of State of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Mariana Grama, denied that the situation is so serious, stating that people do have access to medicines and food, while restrictions are imposed because people do not follow precautionary measures.
“The permit is required for those who have to work lands. The lands are on the hills, outside the locality. […] The mayor has to confirm that a person owns a land parcel outside the territory of Balceana village and that he allows him to perform agricultural activities,” mentioned Grama.
The permits, according to the official, are not issued for persons that want to go to the doctor, as they declare one thing and go somewhere else, that being proved by the police monitoring system in several cases, reported Mariana Grama for ZdG. “People from the village want to go to other localities to buy products, they want to go to the district market, to the bank, to the capital city and I told the mayor that nobody has the right to leave the village, this is what quarantine regime means,” she added.
“I understand, human rights and fundamental freedoms are restricted during state of emergency, but this is to ensure the security of other citizens as well, who are outside the quarantine zone.”
Blocked roads in Cocieri and Corjova
Beside the fact police patrol cars were placed at the entrance of every quarantined village, in Cocieri and Corjova – two villages located in Transnistria – a part of the roads connecting them with other regions were blocked, noted the Promo-LEX association in a press release.
The association mentioned that, on the main roads, the customs officers blocked the access, while on the adjacent roads, concrete blocks or other artificially created impediments to prevent circulation were created. “Because of access prohibition, several categories of people who imperatively need to circulate are affected: doctors and pharmacists, farmers, but also people who work in state institutions. In addition, the consequences of blocking the roads are also affecting the inhabitants of the nearby villages,” is mentioned in the press release.
Blocked salaries of teachers from Transnistria
There are eight schools with teaching in Romanian in the Transnistrian region, which are directly financed from the public budget of the Republic of Moldova.
One of the serious challenges for the employees of these schools is that there are no ATMs in the region that would allow people to withdraw cash from the bank cards issued by Moldovan banks. These cards are not recognized in Transnistria. Usually, teachers go to the Moldovan side, withdraw cash from the ATMs and then exchange it in Transnistrian rubles.
“We got in touch with the Reintegration Bureau and we hope to be able pass on the right side of the Dniester to withdraw our salaries, otherwise teachers will run out of money,” said Ion Iovcev, the director of one of these schools.
Moreover, lack of money could lead to complete isolation. The director says that if, this month, the teachers are not be able to pay for internet services, they will not be able carry out the process of remote teaching.
Funerals with high risk of contagion
One of the reasons people get infected with COVID-19 and die in Moldova is their hospitalisation in the same section with confirmed or suspected patients. That was the case of a woman from Stefan-Voda district who was sent home in isolation after being hospitalised together with COVID-19 patients. “She died in quarantine at home, but it’s known that she was in contact with COVID-19 patients,” explained the mayor of the village she is from.
The mayor claimed that for seven hours, since the woman had died, no one came to test her for confirmation or rejection of the virus and that the woman was in contact with other 26 persons. The mayor also mentioned that there is no special protective equipment in the locality for persons to be involved in the process of burial of the woman. Therefore, even more people risk to get infected.
The desperate call of Moldovan doctors and the reasons why medical system can’t resist for too long
The first medical employee from the Republic of Moldova, Ecaterina Litvinschi – a 79-year-old woman who died because of coronavirus – was buried these days. The woman worked as a medical emergency doctor at at a National Center for Emergency Medicine for about 35 years. According to her relatives’ declarations, she was buried on the edge of a Chisinau cemetery, in a special area where those contaminated with coronavirus were expected to be buried:
sector 277, tomb no. 1
“Historically, those who end their days by suicide were buried on the far side or outside the cemetery. Is that an “honour” attached to a hero doctor?” wondered a relative of the deceased doctor.
Also, the relatives of the medical emergency doctor mentioned that the hospital administration, where the victim was previously hospitalised, insisted to not disclose the fact that Ecaterina was infected being on call to an already infected person, without special equipment and without being warned by the emergency service 112.
Not enough protective measures for medical staff
Out of the currently confirmed 298 cases of infections with COVID-19, 60 are medical workers, according to the information provided by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Protection. Moreover, until two days ago, authorities refused to present information on cases of COVID-19 infection among medical workers, giving assurances that doctors have protective equipment and urging journalists not to seek sensations.
The National Ombudsman Mihail Cotorobai made a request addressed to Prime Minister Ion Chicu, in which he informed about the intention of a high number of doctors to submit letter of resignation due to the lack of the protective equipment, which would provide safe working conditions to the medical personnel.
Mihail Cotorobai asked to urgently identify additional funds to ensure protective measures against COVID-19 contagion, both at the level of hospital medical institutions and at the level of primary health care centres. “The recommended measures are imperative both to ensure the patients’ right to high-quality medical services, as well as to ensure safety of the employees of the health system who are put at major risk of contagion due to non-working conditions,” the Ombudsman said.
Currently, six medical institutions in the country are being involved in the treatment of coronavirus patients. Next week other district and municipal medical institutions will be delegated to hospitalise infected patients. The authorities announced that a triage centre is prepared to be organised at the Moldexpo Exhibition Center. By Wednesday, it will be fully equipped, including with 700 beds.
“The number of confirmed cases is increasing, we reiterate the call to citizens to be very cautious. We are sure that if we follow the rules, we will not allow a jump in coronavirus cases and we will have the capacity to handle the situation. This gloomy scenario can be avoided if we are supportive. It is clear that we will overcome this situation, and the authorities and citizens will make the necessary efforts,” stated the prime minister during a press conference.
The announcement of the prime minister sounded optimistic. More and more desperate calls appear online though, being posted by journalists, politicians, artists, regarding the precarious situation in the medical institutions of the Republic of Moldova. Most of them are made anonymously, as medical workers fear to lose their jobs.
The member of the Parliament Radu Marian posted on social media, on March 28, a message sent to him by a person whose mother works as a nurse at the municipal hospital in Balti (one of the hospitals involved in the treatment of coronavirus patients).
“My mother is scared to go to work. She receives one mask for 24 hours and 2 pairs of gloves without other equipment. They write something else on the paper. It’s like fighting on a battlefield without any weapons. […] I wrote to you as a child who is afraid of losing his mother because of the incompetence of the authorities and because of the situation in the hospitals of Moldova,” is said in the message.
According to the data presented by the authorities, during this weekend, there were reported the most cases of infection per day since the beginning of the epidemic in Moldova.
Not enough resources
Doctor in medical sciences, specialist in Intensive Care, Tihon Moraru called on the authorities to take urgent measures on acquiring the necessary equipment for managing the patients in need for intensive care. He mentioned that in order to be able to provide the necessary treatment to 50-100 critical patients, there is a need of at least 30 to 40 high performance mechanical ventilators, produced in the USA, Germany or Japan.
“I am afraid that we are late by 3-4 weeks, it will be very difficult for the equipment to be brought to the country. This can only be achieved by the authorities of our country and as quickly as possible. […] I believe that the maximum number of hospitalisations for the serious and critical patients will be between the middle of April and the beginning of May, which is why this devices of vital necessity must be brought to the country as urgently as possible. […] They are very necessary for the intensive care units of the country, especially those of the district hospitals of the country, where these devices are outdated,” specified Tihon Moraru.
The Moldovan authorities announced that 200 thousand protective screens and 500 filter masks were purchased in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the purchased protective screens represent only 10% of the announced necessary quantity, while the acquired amount of filter masks cover 25% of the health system current needs, reported ZdG.
Being contacted by ZdG, the manager of the company responsible for acquiring the protective goods said that, at the moment, the company does not have the products in stock, while importing them from China is a complicated procedure that will surely result in delivery delays, given the pandemic conditions.
Not enough tested persons
Another 32 people were lastly confirmed as being infected with the new type of coronavirus, after 246 samples were processed in the laboratory of the National Agency for Public Health, announced the sanatateinfo.md portal. That amounts a total of 5 324 persons who were tested, including family doctors and mayors. Given the exponential growth rate of the contagion demonstrated in other countries, the number of tested persons in the Republic of Moldova can be concluded as being way too low.
Enough Government assurances that “all is kept under control”
For purchasing 200 000 protective screens and 500 000 filter masks, the Government of the Republic of Moldova approved the allocation of 36 million lei from the reserve fund. “It is a measure to ensure protective equipment for the next period. We have enough equipment, but we are preparing for the second half of April and May,” said Prime Minister Ion Chicu.
At the same time, some district hospitals already have taken decisions of replacing at least a part of their old equipment using their institution budget or by applying to international funds and calling for foreign governments’ donations of protective goods, disinfectants, tests, etc.
Photo: Facebook| Ala Nemerenco
In the coronavirus economic crisis: attempts to help the most affected sectors
The National Extraordinary Public Health Commission issued recently a decision, according to which the activity of shops, restaurants, fitness centres, concert halls, theatres, cinemas, museums must be stopped by April 1. The adopted measure is related to the state of emergency declared by the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova throughout the territory of the country until May 15.
As a consequence, business associations from Moldova called for adoption of supporting measures to help companies mitigate the negative effects of the coronavirus outbreak. An online petition addressed to the Government of the Republic of Moldova was signed by thousands of citizens.
“The most powerful hit will be recorded in the case of small and medium-sized enterprises. Considering their vulnerability, the impact can be irrecoverable. Many of them will suffer major losses, some will partially or completely cease their activity, others may go bankrupt. Such areas as services, leisure, tourism, hotel, restaurants, catering, retail, event organisers and many others will be affected by quarantine and preventive measures,” the petition stated.
Government’s list of actions
On March 19, Prime Minister Ion Chicu announced a list of measures that will be taken to help business entities from Moldova during the pandemic situation. Among them are such measures as:
- postponing income tax payments;
- reducing VAT taxes for restaurant, hotels and catering companies;
- introducing a moratorium for tax controls;
- cancelling the compulsory audit of the individual financial statements for the year 2019;
- offering the possibility of commercial banks to reschedule mortgages for individuals and provide loans under more favourable conditions;
- increasing the Government Intervention Fund by 150 million lei, for offering bank lending guarantees to strategic economic entities, etc.
“The extraordinary situation requires extraordinary measures. The crisis will generate losses, but together we will identify solutions to reduce losses. […] At the moment, the budget incomes are at a normal level, being 14% higher than compared to the similar period of last year. We need to identify adequate policies and measures to minimise the effects of this crisis,” said Ion Chicu during the meeting with business associations, as a Government statement reported.
The National Bank of Moldova (NBM) announced that the institution will continue to use all available tools to meet the objectives of price stability and consolidation of the banking sector, which, at the moment, is declared as being well capitalised and resilient.
However, economic experts say that the pandemic could affect the labor market and that the authorities have little room to financially help the business environment, as it is the case in European countries, but it could resort to external loans.
Companies’ mitigation measures
Andrei Crigan who is an economist and business consultant, said that especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) are subject to lower incomes under the pandemic conditions, due to the pressure exercised by fixed costs such as rent, utilities and salaries.
According to the economist, companies must make crisis plans, analysing cost cutting, contract re-negotiations and losses minimisation opportunities. “In this period, the most important thing is the association with other entrepreneurs in order to exchange experience, observation of what others are doing to protect themselves, merging efforts and distributing the expenses together,” explained the specialist.
Also, Crigan stated that it is premature to talk about how much money the state will need in order to support the business environment.
In this regard, companies are advised to take more and more into account digital marketing activities in order to survive in such hard conditions. Offer home delivery possibilities, invest in digital promotion through social media and in situational marketing through corporate social responsibility are just some of them. Additionally, companies shall try to switch to online payment methods and active use of contactless bank cards, so as to reduce the risks of COVID-19 transmission.
Specific industries’ problems
Not all companies can switch to online environment though. Economic expert at Expert-Grup, Iurie Morcotîlo, said that companies oriented to the internal market, such as hotels, restaurants, shops, will be affected in the short term, because the main revenues come from direct contact with people.
In the long run, exports-oriented enterprises will be affected, because consumer demand among importing countries will decrease. “We must acknowledge that public finances this year will be suffering significantly, as the volume of tax collections will be lower than anticipated at the beginning of the year. The state budget will have to be revised and many initially planned expenditures will not be disbursed,” the expert claimed.
According to the economic expert, there is a reserve fund for exceptional situations, but not for business support, while the Government could resort to external credits or increasing the domestic debt, if the volume of expenses will grow.
Not all companies took the necessary preventive measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic situation. Activists are alarmed that work on some construction sites wasn’t stopped, as well as in many factories and service providing companies, whereas protecting equipment wasn’t distributed to employees.
More than 24 thousand people have signed an online petition signalling the increase in food prices and asking the authorities to take measures to protect the citizens. Meanwhile, on social networks people claim that they have observed an increase in prices for vegetables, fruits, dairy products, meat, hygiene products and disinfectants.
On the other hand, some Moldovan companies continue to help those who fight coronavirus nowadays. Businesses donate money to hospitals in the country, support educational project of developing online learning platforms, provide e-books for free, offer free psychological consultations for doctors, cosmetic producers focus all their resources to producing disinfectants.
Despite the losses they face during this period, several restaurants and food producing companies offer free food to doctors, taxi drivers bring doctors to work for free, young musicians organise live concerts online and groups of volunteers are organised to take care of their elderly neighbours by going to stores or pharmacies instead of them. Everyone who can afford it is advised to stay home.
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