SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s government on Wednesday declared an epidemic emergency until June 14, allowing the health minister to extend restrictions aimed at containing the coronavirus outbreak.
The measure replaces a state of emergency introduced in the middle of March, under which the Balkan country imposed travel bans, prohibited socialising in public spaces and closed schools, restaurants and bars.
Bulgaria has started easing the lockdown, opening up inter-city travel and access to parks, but still requires people to wear protective face masks on public transport and advocates social distancing to avoid a new wave of contagion.
As of Wednesday, Bulgaria had registered 2,069 confirmed infections including 96 deaths among its 7 million people.
“We had to declare the epidemic emergency so that the measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus can continue,” Health Minister Kiril Ananiev told a news briefing.
Schools and shopping malls will remain closed, Ananiev said, and infected people or those who have been in contact with them will have to stay in quarantine.
The government has allowed the reopening of outdoor bars and outdoor restaurants, guest houses and small hotels, but will keep its borders closed to most travellers for the time being, Ananiev said.
Bulgaria currently bars citizens of all countries outside the European Union as well as many of the bloc’s member states with serious COVID-19 outbreaks from entering, and requires 14-day quarantine for those who are allowed to enter.
As part of plans to revive its hard-hit tourism sector, Bulgaria will hold talks with neighbouring Greece, Serbia and Romania to try to reach an agreement on easing travel restrictions, Ananiev said.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Kevin Liffey)