Bulgaria’s former health minister slams Katsarov’s ‘criminal negligence’ as Covid-19 deaths soar

Bulgaria’s former health minister Kostadin Angelov has launched a scathing attack on his successor, pointing to four record Covid-19 figures in the past day – including the number of deaths – and saying that Stoicho Katsarov’s “criminal negligence” had brought this disaster to the country.

Angelov, the last health minister in the former Borissov government and a GERB-UDF coalition candidate MP, said on October 26 that Bulgaria was marking its saddest day since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the past day, there were 243 Covid-19 deaths in Bulgaria, a record for a single day, 5863 new cases, a record for all waves so far, a morbidity rate of 736 per 100 000 population on a 14-day basis, a record since the beginning of the pandemic, and 1735 positive cases in Sofia, a record since the beginning of the pandemic, Angelov said.

Angelov alleged that Katsarov had committed criminal negligence. “Because the Criminal Code is categorical that a crime is ‘when the perpetrator did not foresee the occurrence of socially dangerous consequences, but was obliged and could have foreseen them’.”

“For several months now, together with many of my colleagues, we have been warning about the tragedy we are witnessing today. We called for action and determination, but. . .The election was obviously more important to you,” Angelov said, going on to extend the blame to President Roumen Radev, who appointed Katsarov to the caretaker administration.

“Shameful results, a consequence of the humiliation of leading specialists with experience. Replacing them with obedient experts. A wasted summer in which hospitals could have prepared. Instead, we are activating the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism to send our patients abroad for treatment,” Angelov said, adding that the summer had been wasted for schools too.

Angelov dismissed Katsarov’s plan for dealing with the pandemic as unworkable and said that Katsarov had been “lying a lot in recent months”.

“His biggest lie, that the pandemic was under control, stuck out this morning. Unfortunately, the price is high and we will all pay for it,” Angelov said.

Speaking to Bulgarian National Radio on October 26, Professor Todor Kantardzhiev, former head of the National Centre for Infectious and Parasitic Diseases and now an adviser to Sofia municipality on vaccination, said that the spread of the epidemic in Bulgaria had reached proportions unprecedented since the beginning of the pandemic.

Kantardzhiev also pointed to the record numbers of deaths and new cases.

“I warned about this back in September this year, that the lethality would be higher,” Kantardzhiev said.

“In September 2020, 200 people died, now in September 2021, 2000 people died – 10 times more. If 400 died in October last year, now we reach these 400 people in just four consecutive days,” he said.

Kantardzhiev, who was pensioned off by the caretaker administration, said that he believed that a trend had been going on at the Health Ministry for weeks: “Instead of convincing people, they should be deceived”.

“I talk to people every day, give online lectures on vaccines, and I’m happy to say that after these lectures, the percentage of people willing to get vaccinated is growing – both in the capital and in the countryside,” he said.

A number of the measures being taken were either belated, unclear or unenforceable, Kantardzhiev said.

He said that the public should have been told in the summer that the green certificate system would come into force in September or October and that they should rethink their behaviour.

Kantardzhiev said that the idea that general practitioners could prescribe medicines against Covid-19 that would be dispensed free of charge was unfeasible.

“Thirdly, that there will be free antigen tests provided by the Ministry of Health to hospitals – but there are none, my colleagues call and ask me where they will get them, I do not know,” he said.

Bulgarian Socialist Party candidate MP Kristian Vigenin told Nova Televizia on October 26 that a lack of trust in the institutions of state and government in Bulgaria had led to the situation today.

“The way GERB managed the epidemic led to the fact that people did not believe that it was a threat to society,” Vigenin said.

“But with this government and this minister, nothing much has changed. We expected from the caretaker Minister of Health a more adequate approach. Unfortunately, things continued in the same way,” he said.

“When the BSP criticised the introduction of the ‘green certificate’ in this way and demanded the resignation of Minister Katsarov, a few days later both the government and, in particular, the caretaker minister returned to the position we expressed then. Measures – yes, in this way – no.”

Vigenin said that the moment to explain that vaccinations protect and that there is nothing scary about them had been missed. He said that there should have been an appropriate information campaign involving specialists “and not with absurd advertisements”.

On October 26, Professor Mira Kozhuharova, an adviser to the Health Ministry, said that Bulgaria was in the fourth wave of Covid-19 and called on the public to limit contacts and activities that were not urgent for two to three weeks.

Kozhuharova said that the Covid-19 tests that would be administered to primary school pupils were neither intrusive nor stressful and the results would be valid for 48 hours. This was why they would have to be done twice a week, she said.

“The Delta variant of the coronavirus affects children and young people to a much greater extent,” Kozhuharova said.

On October 26, Bulgaria’s Health Ministry, which has been the subject of calls for antibody test results to be included in the grounds for issuing a green certificate, issued a lengthy statement in response.

The statement said that in May 2021, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the Joint Research Center (JRC) published a technical report with guidelines on the use of SARS-CoV-2 antibody testing in the context of EU Digital Covid certificates.

“The document states that a positive antibody test cannot provide any information about the time of infection and cannot rule out an ongoing infection,” the Health Ministry said.

The ECDC reviewed the conclusions of May and considers that the issues raised earlier remain valid and that no significant changes in the scientific evidence have taken place. As a result, the ECDC reiterates that the positive results of antibody testing are not sufficient for the issuance of disease certificates, the ministry said.

The ministry’s statement, in Bulgarian, may be found at this link.

The Sofia directorate of the Health Insurance Fund admitted on October 26 that it was working in violation of the order on anti-epidemic measures because of a lack of sufficient staff with green certificates.

The head of the Sofia Health Insurance Fund, Ivanka Dineva, told Bulgarian National Television: “Unfortunately, we are currently working in violation of the order”.

“We have taken all precautionary measures. Of all 203 employees of the Health Insurance Fund, there are no patients at the moment. There are four quarantined because they were in contact.”

The report said that there were “dozens” of Sofia Health Insurance Fund staff who did not have green certificates, but also refused to be vaccinated or tested before going to work.

Forty-three employees who did not have green certificates worked at the fund’s cash desks yesterday. Dineva had allowed them into the workplace so that they could provide service to patients and medical facilities.

All the employees in the fund’s legal affairs department had gone on leave, while there was also a problem with the staff in the budget and accounting department, the report said.

Another problem was that the promised free antigen tests for staff had not arrived. This meant that anyone who tested this week before going to work had paid with their own money, the report said. Talks were underway with the National Health Insurance Fund to provide tests, according to the report.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said that its human medicines committee had concluded that a booster dose of the Spikevax (Moderna) vaccine against Covid-19 may be considered in people aged 18 years and above.

This follows data showing that a third dose of Spikevax given six to eight months after the second dose led to a rise in antibody levels in adults whose antibody levels were waning. The booster dose consists of half the dose used for the primary vaccination schedule, the EMA said.

The agency said that current data indicate that the pattern of side effects after the booster is similar to what occurs after the second dose.

The risk of inflammatory heart conditions or other very rare side effects after a booster is being carefully monitored, it said. As for all medicines, EMA will continue to look at all data on the safety and effectiveness of Spikevax, the agency said.

The EMA said that at national level, public health bodies may issue official recommendations on the use of booster doses, taking into account the local epidemiological situation, as well as emerging effectiveness data and the limited safety data for the booster dose.

Earlier this month, the agency’s human medicines committee concluded that a booster dose of Comirnaty (BioNTech-Pfizer) may be considered at least six months after the second dose for people aged 18 years and older.

In addition, it recommended that an extra dose of Comirnaty and Spikevax may be given to people with severely weakened immune systems, at least 28 days after their second dose.

(Photo of Angelov via his Facebook page)

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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