SOFIA (Reuters) -Daily coronavirus infections in Bulgaria reached a record high of 7,062 on Wednesday, largely fuelled by the highly contagious Omicron variant, official data showed.
New cases, on the rise since the beginning of the year, surpassed a previous peak set in late October, when the European Union’s least vaccinated member state grappled with the Delta variant.
The virus has killed 89 people in the past 24 hours in the Balkan country, according to official figures, bringing the total death toll to 31,761.
More than 5,200 people were in hospitals, including 580 in intensive care. In the capital, Sofia, planned operations have been suspended as hospitals prepared to expand wards for COVID-19 patients.
Health authorities have said a surge in hospitalisations may mean new restrictions.
At present, Bulgarians have to wear masks indoors and on public transport and show a health pass, given to people who are vaccinated, recovered or who have tested negative for the virus, to get into restaurants, cafes and shopping malls and gyms.
A new centrist government that took office last month has appealed to vaccine-sceptic Bulgarians to get inoculated and offered a one-time cash reward of 75 levis ($43.59) to pensioners who opt to get fully vaccinated or take a booster.
In an attempt to lead by example, lawmakers voted to make the health pass mandatory for entry to parliament from Jan. 24.
The government’s vaccine campaign and the surge in new cases has boosted inoculations since the beginning of the year.
On Wednesday, more than 31,900 doses were administered, bringing the number of fully vaccinated Bulgarians to 1.95 million, or about 30% of the population.
Anti-vaccine protesters, organised by the ultra-nationalist Revival party, are expected on Wednesday to rally against the health pass, which they say curbs their rights and is a back-door means of forcing vaccinations.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)