March 18, 2020 / 7:41 PM / 19 days ago

British skiers stuck in coronavirus lockdown at Bulgaria resort

SOFIA (Reuters) - Dozens of confused and fearful British tourists were stranded in a lockdown at the Bulgarian ski resort of Bansko on Wednesday after three people there tested positive for coronavirus.

As of Wednesday, Bulgaria had 92 confirmed cases of the fast spreading infection, including two deaths. It has introduced a state on emergency, closed schools, restaurants and bars and banned all foreign and domestic holiday trips until April 13.

Authorities extended restrictions to Bansko in the Pirin mountain late on Tuesday, imposing a quarantine a day after closing the ski area, and gave some 284 tourists there, mainly Britons, 24 hours to leave. 

The quarantine came after a British tourist, a Bulgarian ski instructor and a chalet host were diagnosed with coronavirus.

About 200 British tourists waited for hours in Bansko on Wednesday to get on buses to leave and catch flights home, two British chalet owners in Bansko told Reuters.

But not all could squeeze aboard the three coaches provided, and those who did were then stopped and asked to regroup with only one bus with people who had tickets for Wednesday eventually permitted to leave.

Those who lacked tickets were told to stay in Bansko and were promised transport to Sofia Airport on Thursday and Friday, depending on when their flights were due.

Mark Abbott, 30, a senior marketing manager at an events company in Manchester, who had begun their ski holiday with a group of friends on Saturday, said he was grateful the chalet agreed to take them back until they leave on Thursday.

“The experience today was just confusion - real confusion between people, lack of information. (The situation) kept changing very quickly. I understand they did what they could,” he said in a telephone call with Reuters.

“We are really grateful we have a place to stay tonight, which we are familiar with and we know and we feel safer.”

Abbott was most worried about having to wait in large groups all day and then being put in a bus with people without knowing whether any might be infected with coronavirus or not, before being taken off the bus again.

“We have been very careful to keep ourselves to ourselves and with social distancing,” he said.

Abbott said he and his friends decided to come to Bansko after being informed the chalet and ski hills were open as normal. They had never expected the situation could change so fast and drastically, he said.

Access to Bansko, home to some 10,000 people, will be curtailed until the end of the month. TV footage showed police wearing protective suits guarding entrances to the town.  

Additional reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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