(Bloomberg) --

Romania’s government is under fire for agreeing with the Orthodox Church to allow a popular Easter ritual to go ahead under police supervision this weekend.

In his first public disagreement with his ally Prime Minister Ludovic Orban, President Klaus Iohannis urged the administration to reconsider the deal that would allow church volunteers and police to go building to building to give people communion and light candles from a sacred flame.

The dispute comes as Black Sea nation wrestles with the highest Covid-19 death toll in the European Union’s eastern wing. Iohannis has expanded a state of emergency until at least mid-May and the government put three hospitals under military control because of outbreaks among staff. The number of fatalities soared to 362 Wednesday, with 7,216 confirmed cases.

“I’m telling you to stay home, or after the holidays we’ll have funerals!” Iohannis said. “There were probably good intentions behind this deal. But it was misunderstood, as many Romanians thought it meant an easing of restrictions. It’s not.”

While the country of 20 million was one of the EU’s first to impose lockdown measures, it’s also struggling to prevent further contagion after hundreds of thousands of Romanians returned home from working abroad in virus epicenters including Italy and France.

Police Balk

A number of opposition party leaders have called on Iohannis and the cabinet to consider easing restrictions to restart the battered economy before local and general elections scheduled for later in the year.

The deal with the church was struck to prevent people from defying restrictions and packing into churches for Orthodox Easter celebrations this Sunday, Interior Minister Marcel Vela said.

But while Orban said teams of policemen would ensure social-distancing rules are respected, the officers themselves called for the so called “sharing of light and bread” to be scrapped.

“We asked them to reconsider this incompetent decision,” Dumitru Coarna, the head of the largest police union, told Digi24 TV. “We’re in a very complicated situation, and such a measure could double or triple the infection rate. This accord is very bad for policemen and citizens.”

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