Bulgaria’s President Seeks Damage Control Over Covid-19 Measures Controversy

Bulgarian President Roumen Radev held an emergency meeting of the transitional cabinet he appointed on October 24 to respond to mounting controversy over the amended measures that went into effect three days earlier to contain the spread of Covid-19.

the assignment Issued by the caretaker Health Minister Stoicho Katsarov provides access to indoor public spaces if a “green certificate” is presented, which proves either a vaccination against Covid-19, a disease or a negative test.

The move has been sharply criticized because of the short time before it came into effect and the inconsistencies and loopholes in the measures and was delayed in view of the worsening Covid-19 crisis in Bulgaria.

On October 24, 18 of 28 districts were Covid-19 dark red zones, which means a morbidity rate of 500 or more out of 100,000 residents. Four districts – Sofia City, Vidin, Montana and Pernik – are above the 1000 mark.

The problems were exacerbated by the fact that the health information system website kept going offline, leading to delays in the administration of vaccines and the issuing of certificates. The authorities blame malicious online attacks for this.

Amid the difficulties, Katsarov responded by ordering a “grace period” up to and including Sunday, during which no fines should be imposed for violating the new rules.

Bulgarian television reports have shown non-compliance with the rules, including people being admitted to public places such as shopping malls, restaurants and nightclubs without control. A report by Nova Televizia on October 23 showed that a reporter was allowed to enter shopping malls and other locations with someone else’s vaccination card. Earlier, the manager of a shopping center in Plovdiv had told local media that employees had no legal right to see a person’s ID to confirm that the “green certificate” was theirs.

Against the background of the presidential and early parliamentary elections in Bulgaria in November, the issue was also taken up by political parties.

Boiko Borissov’s GERB-UDF coalition, which was criticized months ago by the executive health minister for dealing with the Covid-19 situation, has accused the caretaker administration of creating chaos. Over the weekend, Borissov said that Katsarov’s move to allow people to have a vaccination card (valid for one month until the second dose) after just a single dose was tantamount to allowing someone who only passed a theory test Car to drive dare.

Borissov has used the controversy to portray Radev, who appointed Katsarov, as ultimately responsible for Bulgaria’s high Covid-19 death toll.

The Bulgarian Socialist Party, which has voted in favor of Radev’s re-election, has asked Katsarov to resign.

In an interview with Nova TV on October 24, BSP boss Kornelia Ninova said that Katsarov’s mistakes harmed Radev. “Just as we criticized Borissov during the first crises when we were the first in terms of mortality, so now. You can’t criticize for a situation, but then keep silent because it’s a janitor, ”she said.

Political commentators have said that the controversy surrounding the new measures may affect Radev’s reelection chances somewhat.

At the October 24 meeting, Radev reiterated the support he announced earlier this week for the new measures, saying that “closing the country is the last resort”.

“For me, people’s lives are more important than the election result, which I will endure with humility,” said Radev. “Despite the high price, I supported your decision because it gives freedom of choice and leaves business life open.”

Radev said the way the measures were put in place had been heavily criticized.

“There was not enough time to adjust these measures. It is understandable that this causes stress and indignation in people, ”he said.

Radev said returning young children to the classroom should be a priority.

According to the transitional government’s plan adopted in July to deal with the Covid-19 crisis, schools in areas where the morbidity rate is above 750 per 100,000 people should move to distance learning. This happened again at short notice this week in several communities, including Sofia, which caused anger among the parents of elementary school children who had to struggle to find care at home.

Radev also demanded that the tests are really free and not, as is complained, between 15 and 40 leva for tests. Katsarov was ridiculed on social networks for his confusing statement about rapid tests that cost 10 leva and are free (he seemed to be trying to distinguish between the cost of the tests themselves and the cost of sampling, but this remained unclear).

Radev added that he wanted the cabinet to come up with a solution for people with high antibody levels but who are not given certificates based on that.

Katsarov told the meeting that he believed that the return of children to the classrooms should be done in stages, starting with those in grades one through four.

“I will not let children get up their noses, there are tests with saliva, lollipops, if parents agree with such an approach, this is the way. If it is found that a child has a positive test, the entire class does not have to be quarantined, as this child is checked at the entrance and has no contact with the other children, ”said Katsarov.

Education Minister Nikolai Denkov said there was no parental consensus on this issue. “I hope common sense will prevail. This is a technique that is used all over the world, ”he said.

Finance Minister Valeri Belchev said funds would be found to offer tests in schools.

Katsarov said that “reinforced scrutiny” over compliance with the new anti-epidemic measures would begin on October 25.

Most likely, joint groups would be formed involving the Ministry of Interior, regional health inspectorates, the Bulgarian Food Safety Authority and others, he said.

For the rest of The Sofia Globe’s ongoing coverage of the Covid-19 situation in Bulgaria, please click here.

The Sofia Globe’s reporting on the Covid-19 situation in Bulgaria is supported by the embassies of Switzerland and Finland.

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