Covid-19: Emergency medical services in Bulgaria’s capital ‘near end of our tether’

The Sofia Emergency Medical Service issued an urgent plea to the public on March 17 not to contact them with non-emergency calls and to refrain from crowding into shopping malls and restaurants.

As the number of people in Sofia newly-infected with Covid-19 has increased sharply in recent days, so too have calls to the Emergency Medical Service, Bulgarian National Radio reported.

Spokesperson Katya Sungarska said that in just one week, 1482 people with symptoms of new coronavirus had called in, with 129 of the calls being about children.

Each 12-hour shift gets about 500 calls, many from people who were worried, but were not emergency cases.

“We ask these patients, these people, who perhaps some of them are not patients, are just worried, to contact their GPs for a consultation, not us, because they are just flooding us. While they are talking to the dispatchers, people who really need emergency help cannot contact us and are waiting on the phone,” Sungarska said.

She said that the health care system was on the edge of its tether, adding: “We don’t all have to push ourselves into malls, restaurants and shops. Who needs this?”

In other news on March 17 regarding the Covid-19 situation in Bulgaria:

The Association of Bulgarian Restaurants and the Bulgarian Association of Restaurants called for a complete lockdown for two weeks of all business and government institutions, barring only those of basic necessity.

The call came against a background of expectations that Bulgaria will step up measures against the spread of Covid-19, including by shutting restaurants.

The associations said that shutting restaurants alone would not produce significant results, and said that unless their call for a total lockdown was heeded, they would embark on mass protests, demanding the resignation of the national operational HQ against Covid-19.

“If the state and the people who are bound to make such decisions humiliate us for the fourth time and try to kill our business, we will be obliged to defend ourselves properly,” the associations said.

“The responsible persons – the Minister of Health and all members of the operational HQ, have repeatedly proved that they are unfit to make quality decisions and to inspire confidence and courage in society and business! And no, you are not the best in Europe in managing the pandemic!” the statement said.

Bulgaria’s Cabinet, at a regular meeting on March 17, allocated a further 24 million leva (about 12.27 million euro) to purchase Remdesivir to treat patients with Covid-19.

A government statement said that the funds would be used to provide 36 000 vials of the medication, with a monthly delivery of 6000 vials for a period of six months.

“The analysis of the epidemic situation in the country shows that in recent weeks there has been an increase in the incidence of coronavirus infection, with a proportional increase in the number of hospitalised patients who need the medication,” the statement quoted Health Minister Kostadin Angelov as saying.

Separately, the Cabinet decided to extend the duration of several wage support programmes. The 60:40 scheme, in which the government covers 60 per cent of an employee’s salary and mandatory social security contributions if the employer covers the rest, was extended by two months until the end of May.

The programme for monthly compensatory payments for the tourism, transport and hospitality industry was also extended until May 31. Under this mechanism, employees and self-employed people in those sectors receive state aid of 290 leva a month.

Additionally, the Cabinet extended until end-June the scheme for people employed by companies that have had to shut down operations due to anti-epidemic measures ordered by state institutions. Under this measure, the state covers 75 per cent of their wages, limited to no more than 60 days in 2020 and up to 90 days in 2021.

The district of Pleven has amended its anti-epidemic measures, allowing shopping malls to be open but with provisions to prevent crowding and requiring them to close at 8pm.

The district crisis headquarters ordered group extracurricular activities suspended, with the exception of practical training and competitions that cannot be held online.

Under-18s may visit shopping centres only if accompanied by a parent, guardian or other adult.

Cultural and entertainment events are allowed, and cinemas, museums, galleries, theatres, dance classes and concerts are not suspended, but may not use more than 30 per cent of their capacity, while spectators must be one seat apart, maintain distancing of 1.5 metres and must wear protective masks.

Bulgaria’s National Culture Fund said on March 17 that it launched a call for grant applications aimed at musicians in the pop, rock and jazz genres. The Fund said that the money is meant to support free-lance artists affected by the pandemic.

The funding for the grants, a total of 4.27 million leva, was approved by the Cabinet on March 10 and successful applicants would receive lump-sum payments of 4267 leva, the Fund said. The deadline for applications is March 29.

(Photo: komalantz/

The Sofia Globe’s coverage of the Covid-19 situation in Bulgaria is supported by the Embassies of Switzerland and Finland.

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The Sofia Globe staff

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