At its sitting on August 25, Bulgaria’s caretaker government extended the country’s Covid-19 epidemic declaration by three months to the end of November.
Bulgaria declared a State of Emergency on March 13 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. This continued until May 13 2020, when it was succeeded by an epidemic declaration, which has been extended repeatedly, although usually by one month or two.
The last time Bulgaria’s government extended the epidemic declaration by three months was in January, until the end of April, when the country was at the end of its second Covid-19 wave and about to enter the third.
Caretaker Health Minister Stoicho Katsarov said after the Cabinet sitting that Bulgaria was entering the fourth wave of Covid-19 infections, which made the extension necessary.
“We believe that the optimal extension period is three months, taking into account the special political situation at the moment,” he said, an allusion to the protracted and unsuccessful attempts by parliamentary-represented parties to elect a government.
“The three months period is also justified by the fact that the average duration of a pandemic wave is about two to two and a half months. This period gives the necessary guarantee for security and the ability to apply anti-epidemic measures in the country, as well as maintaining border controls,” Katsarov said in a Health Ministry statement.
Covid-19 cases have been on the rise in Bulgaria in the past month – since July 24, when active cases reached a nine-month low of 7250, the number of people hospitalised with Covid-19 quadrupled from 706 to 2873, while the number of people in intensive care rose from 75 to 248. Active cases rose to 23 814, according to the August 25 report by the national information system.
Despite the steady rise of new cases, Katsarov was yet to order tighter anti-epidemic restrictions. Speaking to reporters in Parliament on August 24, he said that “at this moment, there is no need to introduce additional measures to restrict the spread of the virus.”
Katsarov said that a decision on whether and when to apply stricter restrictions would be taken after taking into account “expert positions”, but gave no time frame for such a decision.
Bulgaria’s morbidity rate, which measures the number of current infections, was at 223.65 per 100 000 population on August 25, according to the National Centre for Infectious and Parasitic Diseases (NCIPD).
The figure was just shy of the 250 per 100 000 population that would put Bulgaria in the “red zone” level of infection, according to the framework for re-introducing restrictions in the pandemic management plan presented by the Health Ministry on July 8.
Although at the time Katsarov said that restrictions would go up if either one of the main criteria – morbidity rates or hospital occupancy – reached the requisite threshold, the caretaker Health Minister is yet to order tighter measures.
On the contrary, in an order issued last week, the Health Ministry said that a number of establishments, including restaurants, gambling halls and casinos, would be exempt from the requirement to operate at 50 per cent capacity if all their staff have been vaccinated against or undergone Covid-19, or presented a negative PCR test result done up to 72 hours before entry to the place.
Bulgaria’s fourth Covid-19 wave appears to be driven mainly by the Delta variant, according to NCIPD sequencing of samples, and comes against a background of very low uptake of vaccines, with European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) data showing the country had the lowest vaccination rate in the EU, as only 21.2 per cent of its population had received at least one vaccine jab and 19.4 per cent completed the vaccination cycle.
(Stoicho Katsarov photo: Health Ministry)
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