March 15, 2020 / 12:53 PM / in 24 days

Bulgaria to pay medics on coronavirus frontline extra

* President, Prime Minister appeal for unity and solidarity

* Bulgarians urged to avoid international travel

* Confirmed coronavirus cases rise to 43

SOFIA, March 15 (Reuters) - Bulgaria will raise the salaries of all medics involved in treating coronavirus patients by 1000 levs ($566) per month as it steps up measures to contain the fast-spreading infection, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said on Sunday.

The Balkan country’s confirmed cases almost doubled to 43 over the weekend. Two people have died from the infection. The country has declared a state of emergency until April 13, closing schools and banning mass gatherings.

Bulgaria’s hospitals, suffering from a chronic shortage of nurses, many of whom have left the country to look for better pay in the West, have already started to hire volunteers to help treat patients.

In a rare demonstration of unity, Borissov and President Rumen Radev stood together appealing to Bulgarians not to yield to panic, but grasp the gravity of the situation, observe social distancing and show unity and solidarity.

“Everyone that is on the frontline and deals with the coronavirus will get an additional 1,000 levs monthly,” Borissov said, adding that Bulgarian industry is producing protective masks and outfits for the medics.

Bulgaria on Friday passed laws envisioning jail terms of up to 5 years for those who fail to observe quarantines for those who have been in contact with people who tested positive or who have returned from countries such as Italy. Since then police detained four people who had breached it.

Radev appealed to Bulgarians to follow the restrictions and asked the government to come up with solutions for those who would lose their jobs or be sent out in unpaid leave as restaurants, cinemas, gyms and shops are closed.

The foreign ministry on Sunday urged Bulgarians both in the country and abroad to restrain from international travel.

Dozens of Bulgarians are currently stranded at the border between Croatia and Serbia, after Belgrade closed its land frontiers for all passengers coming from France, Germany, Austria or Spain among other countries, including for transit travel.

$1 = 1.7672 leva Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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