Bulgaria declares state of emergency over coronavirus

by Reuters
Friday, 13 March 2020 13:26 GMT

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* Bulgaria restricts travels to 14 countries

* Police to ensure people under quarantine observe it

* Officials appeal for social distancing, discipline (Add details)

SOFIA, March 13 (Reuters) - Bulgaria declared a state of emergency on Friday through till April 13 to contain the spread of coronavirus after the number of confirmed cases in the Balkan country more than tripled to 23 over one day.

Bulgaria confirmed its first death of a patient due to the virus on Wednesday, and on Thursday the number of confirmed cases jumped to 23 from 7.

The state of emergency, which parliament voted for unanimously, will allow for travel bans to and from countries with large coronavirus outbreaks, the closing of schools and universities, and will permit police to intervene when the imposed isolation of infected people is not observed.

Prime Minister Boyko Borissov appealed to Bulgarians to follow the rules and threatened one-year prison terms for those who fail to observe quarantine.

"We want this state of emergency for one month," Borissov told parliament. "We need it for those who violate quarantine."

The capital Sofia, home to two million of the country's seven million people, will keep all schools, cinemas, gyms and clubs closed for a week. Under the state of emergency rules local governments will decide on closures in their areas.

HIT ON TOURISM

The foreign ministry banned travel to Iran and imposed different level of restrictions to Spain, France and Japan, as well as eight other countries. It has already banned travel to China and any non-urgent travel to Italy.

Bulgaria does not plan to close borders for now as it wants to keep the transport of goods flowing to avoid further hits on the economy, already struggling with the global impact from the coronavirus outbreaks.

Borissov warned that public revenues could be 3 billion levs ($1.71 billion) less than planned this year if they continue to decrease at the current rate.

The rapid spread of the coronavirus has plunged the Bulgarian travel and tourism industry into one of its worst crises, with about 90% of reservations cancelled and future bookings evaporated, tourist officials say.

"The sector is currently in a very difficult situation," Tourism Minister Nikolina Angelkova said. "About 10 days ago, a very serious cancellation of reservations began."

Tourism, which accounts for about 7% of economic output, remains one of the few sources of foreign revenue for the poorest European Union nation.

The government also plans a revision of the 2020 state budget to allocate more funds to support the healthcare system, Borissov said.

Bulgaria has already limited indoor mass gatherings to 250 people to curb the spread of the infection. The government has urged businesses to apply flexible working time and allow employees to work remotely where possible.

The Bulgarian Football Union suspended all soccer matches on Friday for one month due to the coronavirus outbreak. All basketball and volleyball matches have also been suspended. ($1 = 1.7548 leva) (Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova and Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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