State of emergency to be extended until end of April

PM Borissov: The new strain is spreading strongly throughout Europe, we can make a compromise only for school students

Extending the emergency epidemic situation by three months, effective from 1 February, i.e. until the end of April, proposes Minister of Health Prof Kostadin Angelov. He announced this himself during a hearing in the relevant committee of the National Assembly.

Earlier in the day, after a two-hour meeting between the health authorities and Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, as well as some of the ministers, it became clear that the decision for easing the measures for closed businesses, such as restaurants and shopping malls, would be taken at the end of January, despite expectations for this to happen on 21 January. At the moment, the only clear thing is that the gradual return to school of students in higher grades will start from the beginning of February.

The reason for that is the alarming data for the new strain of Covid-19. This decision was announced personally by PM Boyko Borissov, who took part in the regular briefing of Minister of Health Prof Kostadin Angelov with the head of the National Operative Staff and head of the Military Medical Academy Major Gen Ventsislav Mutafchiyski, head of Pirogov Hospital Prof Asen Baltov, and Chief State Health Inspector Assoc Prof Angel Kunchev.

“Medical doctors refute our optimism,” Borissov stated, noting that government and staff representatives had entered into a dispute over the measures this morning.

“The only compromise we can make related to human health is in the sphere of education. The students from 5th through 12th grade will start school classes in a pre-defined order,” the prime minister added. By 31 January, the situation in the other sectors will be closely monitored and then a decision will be taken.

PM Borissov pointed out that the new strain is spreading strongly throughout Europe, adding that it infects with much higher frequency.

“Can you imagine that today we announce the same measures as in Greece, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, France. We are like an oasis now regarding the measures. The risk of softening them too much may lead to losing control over the spread and the number of deaths. We are sparing the physical and mental health of Bulgarian people,” Borissov also said, adding that the extension of measures after 31 January will cost BGN 100 million.

The prime minister underlined once more that factories and enterprises are functioning, and the country remains with the lowest levels of foreign debt. “We are going to monitor very closely what will happen next month in Europe and Bulgaria,” he pointed out.

Regarding the threats by restaurateurs that they will open their restaurants regardless of the measures, Borissov said that they have this right, explaining that out of 30,000 employees, only 6,300 have applied for financial assistance from the government.

The prime minister also reminded that so far the state has allocated BGN 305 million for vaccines and pointed out that in order to include the GPs in the immunisation process, it was decided to pay them BGN 10 per vaccinated person. At present, it is not clear whether this will be the amount for both doses or just for the first one.

Later, Prof Kostadin Angelov pointed out to the lawmakers from the Parliamentary Healthcare Committee, with regard to the measures, that infections with the new strain of Covid-19, which is assumed to be in Bulgaria already, would put them in very serious danger, which was the reason for the extension of the state of emergency. “Currently, a discussion is ongoing about the easing of measures by various industries. For now, this can only be done in the sphere of education,” Prof Angelov underlined, adding that the measures will be continued after 31 January, but some of them may be softened - apart from the education field also in the spheres of health, sports and culture.

He noted that the National Vaccination Plan is being implemented well.

“When the first 35,000 doses of the vaccine arrived in Bulgaria, we seriously discussed whether all of them should be administered as a first dose or whether to guarantee a second dose from that batch,” explained Minister Angelov. According to him, analysing the situation with the regularity of supplies and based on past experience, the possibility is admitted that there may be a delay in supplies. “And we turned out to be right,” he also said, explaining that if all doses had been administered, 17,000 Bulgarians would not have been able to receive the second dose of the vaccine now. “When the third vaccine gets registered by the Oxford team, then we can expect large supplies in Bulgaria, and we will start vaccinating on a mass scale,” added Minister Angelov and pointed out that a decision for the third vaccine is expected by the end of this month.

At the same time, the health minister underlined that citizens were still not sufficiently informed about the vaccines, and if they were, at least half of them would have wanted to be vaccinated. “Fear begins where information ends,” explained Prof Angelov, but he added that this situation is changing, giving the medics as an example. Initially, only about 30-33% of them expressed willingness to be vaccinated, but later their number increased to nearly 50%.

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