New anti-epidemic measures in Bulgaria’s capital from October 14: What changes?

Against a background of Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia having become a Covid-19 dark red zone – meaning a morbidity rate of 500 or above per 100 000 population – the head of the regional health inspectorate has issued an order detailing anti-epidemic measures in effect from October 14.

However, the measures hardly vary from those decreed by caretaker Health Minister Stoicho Katsarov, in effect from September 7 until October 31.

The Sofia order suspends group extracurricular activities and in-person classes at language and educational centres.

This goes further than Katsarov’s order, which allows in-person classes at language and educational centres, subject to 1.5m physical distancing, no more than 10 people in a room, and the wearing of protective masks.

Sofia has instructed heads of schools, in the event of Covid-19 morbidity increasing, to take steps to switch to the principle of rotating between in-person and distance learning.

The city also has ordered the suspension of in-person congresses and conferences, seminars, exhibitions and other public events, while Katsarov’s order said that these are allowed if using no more than 30 per cent of the capacity of the room and with up to 30 participants, observing physical distance and wearing protective masks.

Sofia has ordered that cultural and entertainment events – including theatres, cinemas, stage events, concerts, dance classes – are subject to a 30 per cent limit on indoor capacity, with the audience sitting one seat apart, with physical distancing of 1.5m and mandatory wearing of protective masks.

This differs from Katsarov’s order, which places a 50 per cent limit on capacity, with the other rules the same.

However, Sofia’s crisis staff have provided for an exception, not only in the case of cultural and entertainment events, but also regarding the rules for museums and galleries, restaurants, fitness centres and sports halls and clubs.

The city says that the capacity use limit may not be applied if 100 per cent of staff either have been vaccinated against Covid-19, have a negative test result or have undergone Covid-19, and the manager has made arrangements to admit only people who present documents showing that they have been vaccinated or have had Covid-19, or present a negative result of a PCR test done up to 72 hours before entering the place or an antigen test done up to 48 hours before arriving. Managers must notify the regional health inspectorate about the decision.

This provision for exception does not, in essence, differ the one ordered by Katsarov as of September 7.

In Sofia, visits to museums and galleries may involve no more than one person per eight square metres, subject to physical distancing of at least 1.5 metres and the wearing of protective face masks by visitors and staff.

Sofia has banned spectators from all collective and individual sports events of a training or competitive nature for all age groups, indoors and outdoors. This differs from Katsarov’s order, which bans spectators at indoor sports events but allows them at outdoor sports events, subject to a 30 per cent limit on capacity use.

In Sofia, group tourist excursions with organised transport and group visits to tourist sites are suspended. Katsarov’s September 7 order was silent on this topic.

In Sofia, minors may visit shopping centres, including malls, only if they are accompanied by their parent, guardian or other adult. Again, Katsarov’s September 7 order said nothing about this, although such a rule was in place in previous national versions of anti-epidemic measures.

The Sofia order suspends the holding of team buildings and other organised group events involving work colleagues. This is identical to Katsarov’s September order.

Competitions and exams are allowed in Sofia when using no more than 30 per cent of the capacity of the room in which they are held, with no more than 30 participants, subject to physical distancing of at least 1.5m and all participants wearing protective masks. This too is identical to Katsarov’s order.

The Sofia order forbids mass public open-air events such as fairs and festivals. Katsarov’s order banned all mass events where there are no fixed seats and no limitation of the number of people who may arrive.

The Sofia order requires restaurants, places of entertainment, gambling halls and casinos to keep to hours from 7am to 11pm, with distancing of 1.5 metres between the backs of chairs at adjacent tables, no more than six people at one table and wearing of protective masks by staff. As noted, if applying the option about vaccinated staff and checking customers, the time and capacity restrictions do not apply.

In Sofia, at private gatherings such as baptisms and weddings, there may be no more than 15 people if the event is indoors and 25 if it is outdoors. In Katsarov’s order, the limits are 30 people indoors and 60 people if outdoors.

There is a 30 per cent capacity use rule in Sofia regarding fitness centres, physical distancing of at least 1.5m and staff must wear protective masks. That is identical to Katsarov’s order, but also subject to the vaccination exception.

Visits to gyms and clubs, swimming pools and complexes are allowed only for individual sports using no more than 30 per cent of their capacity and maintaining a physical distance of at least 1.5 m. Indoor team sports are suspended, with except for trainings and competitions for registered professional athletes. This is the same as in Katsarov’s order.

Visits to spa centres and wellness centres in Sofia are allowed, subject to 30 per cent use of capacity, physical distancing of 1.5m, wearing protective face masks if procedures allow this and, if possible, a schedule for individual use of the services. This is identical to Katsarov’s September order.

At all markets and bazaars, arrangements must be made for one-way foot traffic, distancing of at least 1.5m between visitors, and workers and visitors are required to wear protective masks. This varies from Katsarov’s order, which specifies that at such places, there should be no more than one customer per eight square metres.

In Sofia, at commercial and administrative or other sites that provide services to the public, there may be no more than one person per three square metres. Again, this deviates from Katsarov’s order, which says one person per eight square metres.

Depending on circumstances, employers in Sofia are required to allow employees to work remotely or at home, and if this is not possible, to exercise enhanced anti-epidemic measures, such as filtering, disinfection and ventilation, instructing staff on hygiene and not admitting employees or outsiders who are visibly seriously ill with an infectious disease. This does not differ from Health Ministry orders.

In Sofia, wearing face masks in indoor public places is mandatory – no different from the existing Health Ministry order. The exceptions allowed in Sofia are basically the same as those nationally. The exceptions are for customers in restaurants and drinking establishments, at indoor and outdoor sports (somewhat of a contradiction with the restrictions against spectators), speakers at congress and conferences, presenters and guests on television shows, provided that the latter maintain a distance of 1.5 metres and are isolated from each other by a plexiglass barrier.

The Sofia order suspends visits to medical establishment, specialised social services institutions and residential social services for children and adults. This is a step beyond Katsarov’s order.

For the rest of The Sofia Globe’s continuing coverage of the Covid-19 situation in Bulgaria, please click here.

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The Sofia Globe staff

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