The pandemic will pass, but its effects will last

UNDP in Moldova
Nov 5 · 13 min read

The people in Scoreni, Strășeni district, are affected by the pandemic crisis, which exacerbated the financial and psychological pressure

“I was personally affected by the novel coronavirus,” tells us Svetlana Tabacari, the mayor of the Scoreni village, Strășeni district.

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Svetlana Tabacari, mayor of Scoreni village, Straseni district

We met her at the office, shuffling through files — testimonies of the people’s concerns and the solutions they are expecting. The mayor’s phone is always ringing, with the battery always almost exhausted. The calls come one after another, from villagers, as well as her family, who are now working in the vineyards.

She’s in the first line, as she tells us: “Many mayors, not only me, have been ill. Even in this situation, the Scoreni mayor’s office never closed, everyone would keep on doing their job. Even if one of us was in confinement, the other colleagues worked intensely on keeping up with all the requests from the citizens.”

She was treated at the hospital, suffering from moderate symptoms, and now, after two months from being discharged, she still feels the effects, especially on a psychological level.

“I am still recovering, it’s difficult for me. I still take medicines, but that’s how it is.”

The treating doctor is on the same page: “The doctor would always tell me ‘Svetlana, don’t pay attention so much on appearances, there could be consequences. COVID affects health more seriously than it looks. In some people, it affects their kidneys, heart, nervous system. This is quite serious.’ I want to bring awareness, for people to believe that this is real, that it is happening. I feel very disappointed that many people still don’t believe in the gravity of the situation.”

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At Scoreni Town Hall, communication with citizens takes place in safe conditions

“Maybe someone would hide the fact that they had COVID-19, but they shouldn’t”

The mayor remembers that her first reaction when she saw the positive test was that she needed to communicate this to all the people she’d been in contact with, but also to everyone else because her experience might be of use to other people.

“I didn’t panic. Some people are hiding their illness, but I think that there is nothing to hide. This is important, people need to know about it. These are not some inventions.”

Only by speaking openly, you can disperse doubts and stigma, she believes: “Let everyone know that the mayor of Scoreni has been infected. Dear people, take care of your health and of the ones around you.”

“People would phone me personally and ask my opinion or even my permission: can they go to work in the vineyards?”

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The information panel in front of the town hall uses its place mostly for the communication about the protection measures against COVID-19

In Scoreni, a village with approximately 4000 inhabitants, located at 28 kilometers from the capital city, things took a different turn with the first registered case of COVID-19 in Moldova on 7 March 2020, as then the local spread advanced, seeming unstoppable: “For me personally, for everyone in Scoreni and in the entire country, it was a quite difficult situation,” says Svetlana Tabacari.

From the beginning of the pandemic, her job description included even more duties, since local public authorities are responsible for daily reporting on the local situation.

The mayor called for an extraordinary meeting of the Commission for Exceptional Situations in the village, where it was decided that everyone will be explained why certain restrictions were put into place, by going door to door.

“We prepared a schedule for three councillors to patrol the village every evening. We have involved everyone in this process, regardless of their workload. In the council we have teachers, the local doctor, we have entrepreneurs, and everyone made time for this purpose. In the first days, people were a little annoyed with us, because this had never happened before: in their entire lives they were never restricted to walk on the streets and now they are forbidden to go out of their yards.”

People, caught in the spring field works, seemed to take everything easy and naturally: “We didn’t feel the panic. This happened when everyone was busy at home, in the backyard, in the field, in the vineyards. In the beginning, they didn’t believe that this could happen and were taking everything as a joke. I was pleasantly surprised that people would call me personally and asked for my opinion or even my permission: can I go prune the vines? It came as a shock to me, but it was a pleasant shock.”

For two months, Svetlana felt in control: “People became more responsible, they would wait their turn outside the shops, everyone would wear their masks.”

Through the UNDP-Switzerland project “Migration and local development”, the village benefited from a batch of personal protective equipment: masks, gloves, disinfectants — significant support to the local public servants.

“I don’t know the faces of the doctors responding to the calls, but I remember their eyes”

Since March till May, the village did not have any COVID-19 case. The relaxation of the restrictions at the national level was also felt in Scoreni, and after the first registered case in the village, on May 7, 2020, the local infection spread couldn’t be stopped. Till the end of September, 75 persons were confirmed with the new coronavirus.

With each confirmed case, our community became more and more grateful to the doctors who were fighting for people’s lives.

“They risk their lives every day. We were shocked to see how the doctors would wear the same special clothing for half a day. I didn’t even know their faces, I could only recognize them by their eyes. The nurses, the doctors were all sweaty, in their protection equipment. They would arrive in our village and they weren’t even scared. We went through unthinkable moments”, says the mayor of Scoreni.

“For me, as a school manager, this year was a very difficult challenge”

There are over 300 pupils studying at the “Universul” high school in Scoreni. This year, the teachers, parents, and pupils had to alternate physical and online or mixed model of school attendance.

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At the school in Scoreni, several entrances and filters were arranged for students and teachers

“When I was informed that we had to start online education, I got scared. This is what happens when neither the children, nor the parents or the teachers are prepared. We do have some equipment, but not all children, especially in rural areas, have this possibility,” says Maria Vinițchi, who is the manager of the institution for 22 years.

“For me personally, for the entire community and for the entire world, this was a serious challenge. Our health and safety are at stake. For me, as the manager of the institution, this was a very difficult challenge,” adds Maria.

Summer vacation, which would have offered spare time to regain strength for the new school year, began with getting treatment for COVID-19.

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Maria Vinițchi, Scoreni high school principal

“It was very difficult. First — psychologically, when me and my husband got sick. My husband was hospitalized. I stayed home, also severely ill, but it was necessary for one of us, who wasn’t so gravely ill, to stay home. Psychologically, it was very, very hard. I haven’t been in such a situation in my entire life. So many emotions and feelings… Being alone and sick and knowing that no one can get near you. Nobody can offer you help; I could only talk on the phone with my family doctor.”

The thought that would put her at ease was that she managed to prepare for the new school year before contacting the virus: “Our local pharmacist would bring me my medicines and would leave them at the gate. Some colleagues or guards from school procured water for me, some relatives brought food packages and left them at the gate. It was a very difficult situation, but I am glad that I managed to prepare the institution for the new study year before I got sick.”

Zoom-ing from home

Even if it offers the flexibility to use different platforms and forms of interaction, online education initially seemed undecipherable to teachers and pupils, who were used to writing on blackboards.

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The pandemic made Angela Vasilica, a primary school teacher, develop her digital skills

“It was difficult, because you didn’t have a blackboard on the computer. I would write with the marker, for everyone to have the information. But everything looks smaller on the phone, and the pupils would often ask me what I wrote. It is more complicated from the psychological point of view. I think that it is also difficult for the parents, because, when the children had their online classes, they were stressed by the thought: ‘What would the other parents think when listening to the classes? Did my child give the right answer?’ It wasn’t easy at all,” remembers Angela Vasilica, school teacher and local councillor.

“First of all, it was a new situation, we were all confused. We started to work through Viber, then the classes were transferred on Zoom, Google Classroom, or Skype, we tried several platforms for connecting with the class. When some of the pupils didn’t have the necessary technical means, we would call them on the landline or mobile phones. We tried to get every child included, so not one of them would be left behind. It wasn’t easy at all. Every class was practically a demonstration class,” adds the teacher.

During the summer, Angela Vasilica took special courses and says that she gained new skills.

In the new school year, she says that she comes to work scared as a rabbit, even if she follows all the safety measures: “We are constantly afraid that tomorrow or the day after tomorrow we will have an outbreak in the school.”

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During the pandemic, the Scoreni public library went online and supported the public communication about the safety measures during the pandemic, says Olga Staver, 60y, the director of the Scoreni public library

Various facets of the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19

The pandemic swept the country also socio-economically, affecting peoples’ income, especially the freelancers, people depending on remittances, and the ones employed in the HoReCa sector.

Silvia Moșneaga, 47 years old, mother to 5 children, says that she lost her job in sales following the restrictions on open-air markets.

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Silvia Moșneaga

“When everything started, I was working at the Central Market in Chișinău, in the meat department. We were all in shock. It closed… We tried to quickly sell the meat in the refrigerators. It was complicated, I ended up losing my job. We only stayed at home; we didn’t go anywhere. Only my husband was working, as a taxi driver. We were lucky he had this job and would bring home 100–200 lei every day, to buy bread, sugar, sweets, candy for children. It was very, so very difficult. I don’t know the situation in other families, but we are a large family and we need a lot of food. It was difficult to manage, but we succeeded. Thank God!” says Silvia.

The household animals were lifesavers: “We have animals, so we have a reason to wake up in the morning and not sleep till noon (smiles). To be honest, we can’t manage to put some money aside, because we are many mouths to feed. We try, we work a lot. We never expected anyone’s charity,” she tells us.

After the market was reopened, Silvia started selling flowers: “I work in the night shift at the Calea Basarabiei market, selling flowers. I work for two days and I stay for two days at home. Money doesn’t come easy to us. When you have a steady job, a monthly salary, it is different… I can’t survive on 2000 lei a month. The money is always scarce.”

During the two days when she is not selling flowers, she sells other things in order to get additional income.

“I knit socks, I grow flowers and I sell them at the market on the two days I’m home. Flowers, berries. We don’t just stay put. Soon the sloe berries will ripen, and God gives them for free, just go and pick them, make some money for the family. Only one who doesn’t want anything, doesn’t do anything. There was the Cornelian cherries harvest, so we picked them. We try to have other activities, besides the job.”

The wedding venue in Scoreni — empty

The health crisis affected the local economy, especially the entrepreneurs in the HoReCa sector. It is also the case of the wedding hall in Scoreni, situated in the center of the village. The venue, active for over a decade, also has a semi-covered terrace for open-air ceremonies.

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Maria Staver, owner of the wedding hall in Scoreni

If before the pandemic the people in Scoreni would celebrate their weddings, Christening or birthday parties at this venue, now the business is on full stop, says Maria Staver, the owner of the venue.

“Before all of this started, it was good. We would have a celebration, a wake. Now, nobody is doing anything.”

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The Staver family hopes that they will make it through

“You make the money in a different country and you invest it here”

In front of the mayor’s office we met Ion Neamțu, 46 years old, who was home for a short time, on vacation. He worked for six years in constructions in London and 14 years in Portugal.

Now the man has his own company and says that the processes in his company were reconfigured for all the employees to be safe.

“In the United Kingdom, at the beginning there were restrictions: large construction sites were closed and the personnel was reduced to 30%. I wasn’t affected. The people who lost their job were compensated by the government — for 6 months they were getting 80% of their salaries, so they would be able to pay rent and support their families. I have a constructions company, and I have a few employees. The only thing we had to do was to make sure that they are not all close together. We took all the necessary measures to avoid contact with outsiders.”

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Ion Neamțu

Back in Scoreni for his vacation, he self-isolated for 14 days, after which he offered to help at picking grapes. Ion hopes that in a couple of years he will be back home for good.

“Things are going to change. But in Moldova we don’t have any certainty. You can invest: earn money in a different country and then invest it here, but you never know if you will have an income, that your business is not going to be shut down. There is a 50/50 risk.”

“A day of spring feeds an entire year”

The pandemic and the drought, together, had a devastating effect on agriculture.

This is also the case of Agrimcor company in Scoreni, which cultivates, stores and sells cherries, plums, and grapes on the internal and external market since 2015.

“If last year we launched on the Russian and European markets, this year it was very difficult. There was the pandemic and the most important field work needed to be done during the lockdown period, when people self-isolated. Around 30 to 40% of our workers are over 60 years old. They are also the most experienced ones. It was very difficult. It was very hard for us,” says Natalia Barbos, project manager at Agrimcor. The company resisted thanks to the savings obtained from the sales in 2019 and the first works in 2020.”

“The first field works were done in February. Then the pandemic started, and everything stopped. If the fieldwork is not done on time, then we can expect very big losses. The cherry harvest was compromised. We were depending on this harvest very much. With the money gained from the cherries, we could pay our employees. The harvest was compromised also by the quarantine, the pandemic… we didn’t have an export market. Only the internal market, but it’s not enough”, explains Natalia Barbos.

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The agricultural production company was affected by both the drought and the pandemic crisis

Now, the financial pressure is felt even more in Scoreni, believes Natalia.

“People search for jobs. In the years before we didn’t have such calls, but now people call us directly. Many of them came home from abroad and are looking for a job. If in the previous years it was difficult to find workers, this year they were asking for jobs. Many businesses shut down. People were left without jobs. But life goes on, there are expenses.”

This year’s harvest was affected by the drought and it only counts for a fourth of the previous years’ average, which puts the company barely at float.

Similar to Scoreni, the entire country’s economy was seriously affected by the new coronavirus. COVID-19 revealed and exposed the already existing inequalities.

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This year’s harvest, affected by the drought, represents a quarter of the average of previous years

According to an analysis of the COVID-19 socio-economic impact conducted by UNDP Moldova in partnership with the UN Country Team and with support from UNFPA, the most affected sectors of the economy are HoReCa, commerce, transportation and others. Agriculture is among these sectors, being also affected by drought. The cumulative impact on agriculture is still being assessed, but the available data suggest considerable losses in the South, Centre, as well as in the North of the country, of 40 to 50%. Moreover, the most affected are the small farms, as they don’t own irrigation technologies, have problematic access to technologies and markets.

Among the most affected social categories are women from vulnerable groups, children, the elderly, newly returned migrants, freelancers.

Text: Laura Bohanțova

Photo: Ion Buga

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