March 13, 2020 / 9:36 AM / a month ago

Bulgaria closes schools, restricts travel over coronavirus

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria closed schools and restricted travel to 14 countries on Friday to contain the spread of coronavirus after the number of confirmed cases in the Balkan country more than tripled to 23 over one day.

A medical worker wearing a mask passes by an ambulance at Sofia emergency center, in Sofia, Bulgaria March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Dimitar Kyosemarliev

Bulgaria’s parliament also declared a state of emergency until April 13. The country confirmed its first death of a patient due to the virus on Wednesday, and on Thursday the number of confirmed cases jumped to 23 from 7

Under the emergency rules schools, universities and kindergartens will remain closed until March 29 and visits to gyms, cinemas, bars, restaurants and shops except for supermarkets and pharmacies will be banned.

Businesses are encouraged to allow employees to work remotely while students will take classes online.

The state of emergency, which parliament voted for unanimously, will also allow for travel bans to and from countries with large coronavirus outbreaks and will permit police to intervene when the imposed isolation of infected people is not observed.

Prime Minister Boyko Borissov appealed to Bulgarians to follow the rules and threatened one-year prison terms for those who fail to observe quarantine.

“We want this state of emergency for one month,” Borissov told parliament. “We need it for those who violate quarantine.”

HIT ON TOURISM

The foreign ministry banned travel to Iran and imposed different level of restrictions to Spain, France and Japan, as well as eight other countries. It has already banned travel to China and any non-urgent travel to Italy.

Bulgaria does not plan to close borders for now as it wants to keep the transport of goods flowing to avoid further hits on the economy, already struggling with the global impact from the coronavirus outbreaks.

Borissov warned that public revenues could be 3 billion levs ($1.71 billion) less than planned this year if they continue to decrease at the current rate.

The rapid spread of the coronavirus has plunged the Bulgarian travel and tourism industry into one of its worst crises, with about 90% of reservations canceled and future bookings evaporated, tourist officials say.

“The sector is currently in a very difficult situation,” Tourism Minister Nikolina Angelkova said. “About 10 days ago, a very serious cancellation of reservations began.”

Tourism, which accounts for about 7% of economic output, remains one of the few sources of foreign revenue for the poorest European Union nation.

Slideshow (3 Images)

The government also plans a revision of the 2020 state budget to allocate more funds to support the healthcare system, Borissov said.

The Bulgarian Football Union suspended all soccer matches on Friday for one month due to the coronavirus outbreak. All basketball and volleyball matches have also been suspended.

($1 = 1.7548 leva)

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova and Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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