Bulgaria’s Health, Education Ministers propose spending 13M leva on free Covid tests for primary school pupils

Bulgaria’s caretaker ministers of health and education are to ask the cabinet to agree to provide 13 million leva (about 6.6 million euro) for free Covid-19 tests for primary school pupils to enable in-person learning to resume, a news conference on October 25 was told.

Caretaker Health Minister Stoicho Katsarov has said that the tests would be based on saliva, not on swabbing the nose.

The announcement at the news conference came a day after President Roumen Radev met the caretaker cabinet and called on them to take steps to return young pupils to in-person learning.

The proposal is to test the pupils twice a week at the entrance to the school. A child that tests positive will be turned back so that the class need not be quarantined. Teachers who do not have “green certificates” will also be able to use the tests.

Caretaker Education Minister Nikolai Denkov called on parents and teachers to support the proposed approach. The proposal for rapid testing twice a week has been under discussion for several months, but there are still parents who oppose it.

The briefing was told that the goal was for the tests to be available at schools from next week.

Bulgarian National Television reported the National Network for Children as welcoming the proposal, saying that if parents were against testing, they could keep their child at home, undergoing distance learning instead of in-person classes.

According to the national plan adopted by Bulgaria’s caretaker cabinet in July, pupils in municipalities in areas where the Covid-19 morbidity rate is over 750 per 100 000 population should go over to distance learning.

Last week, an overnight announcement putting pupils in all grades in several municipalities, including the city of Sofia, on distance learning caused an outcry among parents.

On the Facebook page of the Education Ministry, Denkov was quoted as saying that certificates of illness and testing of teachers twice a week were opportunities to make a school safer. The green certificate did not necessarily mean that teachers needed to be vaccinated, he said.

Denkov said that about 36 per cent of teaching staff had completed the vaccination cycle and a further 20 per cent had undergone Covid-19.

“These people can enter the classroom immediately. For others who do not want to be vaccinated, tests are an option,” he said.

He said that given the high rate of morbidity, it was impossible to continue without testing and filtering at the entrances to schools.

The alternative was a “lockdown” and prolonged distance learning, he said.

The statement said that statistics from the past two weeks showed that about 500 children were falling ill every day and schools in the dark red zones – meaning, a morbidity rate of 500 or more per 100 000 population – were no longer safe places for them.

In other news related to the Covid-19 situation in Bulgaria on October 25:

Bulgaria’s state-owned IT company Informatsionno Obsluzhvane said that as of October 25, everyone who had been confirmed by an antigen test to have had Covid-19, with this recorded in the national register, could download their certificate of illness from the national health information system portal https://www.his.bg/bg/dgc.

The certificate would be valid only on the territory of Bulgaria and could not be used for travel abroad, the company said.

Those wanting to obtain a Covid-19 certificate on the basis of a rapid antigen test should enter their personal identity number, ID card number and telephone number that they provided when registering. They would receive a special code via text message, which should be input on the portal’s page, Informatsionno Obsluzhvane said.

This certificate of illness will be valid for 365 days from the date of the first positive test.

Those who were confirmed to have Covid-19 by a PCR test will continue to use the European green certificate.

Informatsionno Obsluzhvane said that a total of 1.47 million European green certificates had been downloaded so far. Since the “green certificate” order was announced on October 19, more than 550 000 certificates had been downloaded, the firm said.

It said that between 9am and 10am on October 25, a record 24 723 certificates had been downloaded.

Pirogov emergency hospital in Sofia has extended the working hours of its immunisation centre as of October 25.

Seven days a week, Pirogov’s immunisation centre will be open from 8am to midnight, with three medical teams on duty. The hospital said that it had sufficient quantities of all vaccines approved for use in Bulgaria.

On October 25, a queue for antigen tests formed outside a licensed laboratory at the Subota market in Plovdiv, local media said.

Some of those in the queue wore protective masks, but there was almost no physical distancing. There was a mixture of people in the queue – some with symptoms, others who wanted the tests so that they could go to their workplaces, and others who wanted to go to a mall to see a film.

Most of those in the queue were unhappy about the mixing, the report said. “So it turns out that I’m waiting in a queue next to a woman with symptoms, and I’m waiting for a test to go to work in a restaurant,” one was quoted as saying.

The Bulgarian Pharmaceutical Union said that it had lodged a class action in court against the National Assembly and the Cabinet for what it called discriminatory treatment of master pharmacists.

It said that there had been discriminatory treatment of master pharmacists for years, but it had been particularly clearly demonstrated by the state during the Covid-pandemic.

“Since the beginning of the health crisis caused by the spread of the acute viral disease coronavirus Covid-19, the state has provided additional remuneration, protective equipment and incentives for other categories of medical professionals – doctors, dentists, health care professionals.

“For inexplicable reasons, despite the repeated reminders and opinions of the Bulgarian Pharmaceutical Union, the relevant state bodies, in the form of the National Health Insurance Fund, the Cabinet and the National Assembly have not taken any action to eliminate the discriminatory treatment of master pharmacists,” the union said.

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

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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