Bulgaria makes COVID 'health pass' obligatory for leisure activities

SOFIA, Oct 19 (Reuters) - Bulgaria will make a COVID-19 "Green Certificate" mandatory for indoor access to restaurants, cinemas, gyms and shopping malls, the health minister said on Tuesday, as the country struggles with a rising number of coronavirus infections.

The health pass - a digital or paper certificate showing someone has been vaccinated, tested negative or recently recovered from the virus - was originally conceived to ease travel among European Union states.

As of Oct. 21, people who want to visit indoor public spaces including cafes, hotels, concert halls, museums and swimming pools should show such a health pass, interim Health Minister Stoicho Katsarov told reporters.

"The number of new infections and deaths is rising. That forces us to impose additional measures. All activities indoors should be carried out with a green certificate," he said as he appealed to vaccine-sceptical Bulgarians to get inoculated.

Bulgaria is the EU's least vaccinated country and has had the highest mortality rate in the bloc in the past two weeks.

Only 25% of Bulgaria's seven million people have had at least one COVID shot, well below the EU average of nearly 80%.

On Tuesday, it reported 4,979 new coronavirus cases, the highest daily tally since late March, and 214 deaths in the past 24 hours.

Katsarov said all medical personnel and care home workers must present a health pass in order to work.

It will not be obligatory for teachers, but schools in regions where more than 750 people per 100,000 inhabitants are infected will have to switch to online classes.

Katsarov said failure to curb the spread of the disease could trigger tougher restrictions and even a full lockdown.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.