Bulgaria Monthly Digest: COVID restrictions tighten, and CoE calls for defense of minority rights4 min read

 In News, Southeastern Europe

Like virtually everywhere in Europe in the last month, Bulgaria’s media focused almost entirely on the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are a few key figures and some of the main measures taken by the government by April 15th, followed by the events that made the headlines. 

There are 735 confirmed cases in the country in total. 35 people have died and 105 have recovered. The tests performed amount to 18 502.   

– A state of emergency was declared on March 13th for one month and was prolonged at the beginning of April for one month more – until May 13th.

– All borders have been completely closed for citizens of foreign countries and for people coming in from a dozen of countries irrespective of citizenship.

– Most commercial sites have been closed, except for providers of essential goods such as food, medicine, etc.

– All educational institutions have closed their doors.

– Entering public parks and city gardens is prohibited. As of April 2nd citizens have been fined a total of nearly 4 million BGN or about 2 million Euro.

– Wearing masks in public spaces has been made mandatory.

– Travel within the country is limited.

– The Bulgarian National Bank has adopted a memorandum period for up to six months on loans taken from banks by individuals

– 1500 BGN or around 750 Euro per month of a zero-interest loan will be available for up to three months for people whose employment has been affected by the crisis.

– Special restrictions for movement in and out of Roma neighbourhoods across the country have been imposed.

– Since the state of emergency was declared, 61 644 people have applied to the National Employment Agency as job-seekers and/or to receive unemployment benefits (as of April 9th).

– Half of all  restaurants, bars, and cafes are expected to go bankrupt. Nearly 500 000 people are employed in this sector.

General Ventsislav Mutafchiyski, a chief of the Military Medical Academy in Sofia and head of the National Operational Headquarters for the Fight with the Coronavirus Pandemic in Bulgaria Source: capital.bg

General Ventsislav Mutafchiyski, a chief of the Military Medical Academy in Sofia and head of the National Operational Headquarters for the Fight with the Coronavirus Pandemic in Bulgaria. Image source

– On March 22nd, Bulgaria’s President Rumen Radev imposed a partial veto on the State of Emergency measures bill which was passed in parliament three days earlier, BNR reports. In a special televised address to the nation the president articulated concerns regarding the effect of the bill on the freedom of speech, criticized the government for the lack of social measures for the most vulnerable, and denounced the approach the latter has taken in price freezing. The next day, the National Assembly amended the bill according to the president’s veto.

– On March 24th, Gallup International – Bulgaria published a survey which shows that 66% of respondents find the authorities’ measures regarding the pandemic sufficient.  38% of respondents, however, are concerned that they won’t be able to pay their bills. 20% are worried that they would lose their jobs and 3% answered that they already had. 64% of respondents believe that the virus was created in a laboratory.

– A new poll by Gallup International – Bulgaria published on April 1st suggests that 36% of the surveyed declared that their income had decreased while 23% expect their earnings to drop “really soon”. In a poll from April 9th, 9% of the respondents stated that they had lost their jobs.

– On March 31st, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, published a report on the visit to Bulgaria she carried out in November 2019. A press release on the report says that the commissioner considers that there to be a need for a political and cultural shift in the way minority groups are treated and portrayed in Bulgaria, where hate speech, discrimination, and hostility against Roma, LGBTI people, and persons belonging to other minority groups remain an issue of acute concern. She calls on the authorities to react vigorously to incidents of hate speech, including by high-level politicians, to enhance legal protection against discrimination and hate crimes, and to effectively investigate and prosecute such crimes.

Members of the parliamentary group of VOLYA during a session on March 20th

Members of the parliamentary group of VOLYA during a session on March 20th. Image source

– On April 6th, parliament adopted a budget revision as proposed by the government. The update includes a possibility for an increase of the government debt by about 8 billion BGN (around 4.1 billion Euro). The Council of Ministers announced a few days earlier that Bulgaria’s economy is expected to shrink by around 3% due to the stagnation provoked by the pandemic.

– On April 7th, people who had lost their jobs gathered in front of the municipality building  in Burgas to voice their worry. On the same day in Sofia, taxi drivers organized a demonstration to express concerns about their earnings. A car procession protest in Sofia demanding substantive social and economic measures for protection of all vulnerable people was prohibited by the authorities.

– On April 13th, the government adopted a decree obliging supermarket chains in the country to offer regional Bulgarian foods in specially designated areas. The policy allegedly aims at ”supporting small local producers”. 

– Since the outbreak of the pandemic in Bulgaria and the subsequent implementation of restrictive measures, cases of domestic violence have been on the rise, bTV reported on April 14th. Since the beginning of the year, 30 women have died as a result of violence at home.

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