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Bulgaria makes face masks compulsory again as virus cases rise

FILE PHOTO: Two Bulgarian women wearing protective masks are seen in Sofia downtown, Bulgaria March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Dimitar Kyosemarliev

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria on Monday ordered residents to wear protective face masks again at all indoor public places after the Balkan country recorded its highest weekly rise in novel coronavirus cases.

The order, issued by Health Minister Kiril Ananiev, came 10 days after his move to make the wearing of masks indoors “highly recommended” but not mandatory, apart from on public transport, in pharmacies and medical establishments.

“The only purpose for doing this is to preserve the health and life of Bulgarian citizens,” Ananiev said, adding that people should wear masks at shops, sports events, cinemas and theatres. Staying 1.5 metres apart from other people is also compulsory.

Ananiev said up to 1,000 fans would be allowed at football stadiums for Bulgarian league matches.

The Black Sea state with a population of nearly seven million people, has reopened restaurants and cafes while stay-home recommendations were lifted in most places.

However, Bulgaria recorded 606 new COVID-19 cases last week, the country’s highest weekly rise. Bulgaria has recorded 3,905 cases and 199 deaths from the coronavirus.

“Obviously, last week’s data for the whole country is alarming,” capital Sofia mayor Yordanka Fandakova said. “This includes Sofia.

“That is why we are constantly discussing and considering the situation. We have to learn to live with the virus.”

Bulgaria declared a one-month epidemic emergency on May 13 - replacing a previous state of emergency - allowing the health minister to extend coronavirus restrictions.

Reporting by Angel Krasimirov, editing by Ed Osmond