SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria plans to close schools, restaurants and shops and ban all sports events, private celebrations and excursions as it struggles to contain a coronavirus case surge.
The Balkan country’s health minister Kostadin Angelov said on Monday that the measures, to be debated by the centre-right government on Wednesday, were aimed at preventing a struggling health system from being overwhelmed.
New coronavirus cases have doubled in the past week to 23,569, Bulgarian health ministry data showed, bringing the total number to 121,820 in the country of 7 million.
Some 6,350 people are in hospitals, 1,000 more than a week ago, and more than 400 are in intensive care.
Hospitals are strained, with many short-staffed due to rising infections among medics, while ambulances have been searching for coronavirus beds in major cities.
Bulgaria’s COVID-19 fatalities per 100,000 people are the third highest in the European Union in the past 14 days, data showed. In total, 2,880 people have died from COVID-19.
“No matter how prepared, no (health) system can withstand such a pressure,” Angelov told reporters.
“We cannot afford to lose the lives of young people, of old people, of doctors and of teachers,” he added.
Under the plan, which if approved will be enforced from Nov. 27, schools and universities will switch to online studies, while kindergartens and nurseries will be closed.
Sports and cultural events will be banned, including seminars, conferences and private celebrations. All restaurants, bars and cafes will be shut, as well as all shops except for pharmacies, food stores and banks.
Tourist trips both at home and abroad will also be banned.
Earlier, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said the measures should be balanced to keep the small and open economy going and Angelov said he hoped the measures could allow some easing for the Christmas holidays.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Alexander Smith)
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