Bulgaria extends emergency epidemic situation until April 30
The decision was adopted at an extraordinary cabinet meeting called by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, the Government Information Service said.
The Prime Minister tasked the Health Minister with issuing an order that would state clearly the schedule for a gradual relaxation of the anti-epidemic restrictions.
Regarding restaurants and night clubs, Borissov tasked the Health Minister with holding a meeting with the branch's representatives to discuss possible solutions.
The Prime Minister was informed that the government's support for job retention and for businesses amounts to nearly 2 billion leva since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The measures funded by the Labour and Social Policy Ministry have helped preserve 300,000 jobs and prevent unemployment from doubling.
As a result, at the end of last year the unemployment rate was the lowest since the end of the state of emergency in May 2020, and it is still below 7 per cent at present.
Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Donchev refuted recent speculation concerning the Government's priorities.
"Since there has been speculation about what is a priority and what is not: everything is a priority for us.
Each enterprise is a priority for us, each employed person is a priority for us.
And if restrictions are imposed somewhere, it is not because we are disparaging any sector.
This is [done] only when one's work is in conflict with healthcare and creates risks for health and life," Donchev is quoted as saying at the cabinet meeting.
Later on Tuesday, the Bulgarian Hotel and Restaurant Association (BHRA) said its deputy chairmen Zlatko Zlatanov, Branimir Milanov and Atanas Dimitrov met with Health Minister Kostadin Angelov and reached an agreement that restaurants will reopen on March 1.
Until then, they will receive the compensations promised by the Government, Zlatanov explained.
Unless the epidemic situation worsens significantly, night bars and clubs will reopen on March 14, the Health Minister said as quoted by the BHRA.
It also emerge from the meeting that the food and drink establishments closed by order of the Health Minister will receive all due compensations within days.
Minister Angelov promised to assist for subsequent meetings with Prime Minister Borissov, Labour and Social Policy Minister Denitsa Sacheva, and Finance Minister Kiril Ananiev to discuss the sector's economic demands: an increase of the staff compensations in February to 100 per cent of the contributory income; compensations for the establishments' owners of 30 per cent of their turnover; timely payment of the compensations within the calendar month for which the application is submitted; easier application and payment of the compensations; a hotline for communication with businesses; a response to the questions raised within three working days; and an extension until February 15 of the application deadline for the measure providing 20 per cent of the affected business' turnover.
Later in the day, the Bulgarian Association of Food and Drink Establishments and the Association of Bulgarian Food and Drink Establishments said that they had not participated in the meeting with Health Minister Angelov and had not agreed to reopen restaurants on March 1.
The members of the two associations are adamant that this date is unacceptable and still intend to stage a protest demanding to reopen on February 1.
The associations call on all representatives of affected businesses to support their protest, which is scheduled for January 27 in front of the Council of Ministers' building.
Late on Tuesday, Health Minister Kostadin Angelov issued an order extending the epidemic emergency until April 30.
As of Friday, January 29, until April 30, all arrivals in Bulgaria must show evidence of a negative PCR test taken in the 72 hours before departure.
Bulgarian citizens and persons with the status of permanent, long-term or continued residence in the territory of Bulgaria and their family members, who do not produce evidence of a negative PCR test on arrival, must self-isolate for 10 days.
The requirement for a negative PCR test does not apply to drivers of buses on international routes, international lorry drivers, ship and aircraft crews, frontier workers and in-transit travellers.
Another order allows students in Grades 5 to 12 to return to school on February 4.
As of February 1, cinemas can reopen and art, dance and music classes can resume at 30 per cent capacity and in compliance with the physical distancing rule.
Also, gyms can reopen at up to 50 per cent capacity.
Until February 28, restaurants and cafes must remain closed except for delivery and take-away.
Restaurants in accommodation establishments can stay open with the appropriate safeguards in place as now.
As of March 1, restaurants and cafes can reopen.
This does not apply to discos, bars, clubs, piano bars and night bars.
As of February 1, shopping centres can reopen.
Underage children must be accompanied by a parent or other adult person.
In a position released on Tuesday, the Bulgarian Medical Association (BMA) expresses firm support for the Health Minister's actions and calls for reasonable talk and constructive dialogue.
The BMA also expresses concern about the increasing public pressure over the current anti-epidemic measures and their application. ■