Bulgaria will reopen restaurants from March and lift a ban on nightclubs from April, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said on Wednesday (24 February), betting on a vaccination programme and a solid number of recoveries from COVID-19.
Bulgaria started a mass vaccination programme last week hoping to improve the slow pace of the process that has left it behind its European Union peers amid high public mistrust over the shots.
Despite a gradual increase in new coronavirus infections in the Balkan country in the past month, Borissov said it was quickly building a shield against the infection that justifies further lifting of the restrictions.
Some 150,000 Bulgarians have been vaccinated so far, 17,000 alone on Tuesday, and another 200,000 have recovered from the disease, Borissov told a government meeting.
“In Bulgaria, with strictly observed measures, which at the same time are the most liberal in Europe, we maintain results that enable people to live normally. Bulgarians do not feel that there is a pandemic, as in other European countries,” he said.
Bulgaria is ranking last in the EU in terms of vaccinations, partly because of the many anti-vaxxers, and also due to the negative attitude towards the AstraZeneca jab, considered “cheap” and less effective than the other two vaccines available – Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.
Bulgaria re-opened secondary schools, shopping malls and gyms from the beginning of February, but kept restaurants and bars, shut since late November, closed due fears about the new, more contagious variants of the disease.
The decision then prompted protests from the restaurant and bar owners. The lifting of the ban ahead of 4 April election, is likely to at least partially defuse their discontent.
The health ministry is expected to come up with concrete conditions concerning capacity and distance rules for the reopening later this week.
Bulgaria reported 1,800 new daily coronavirus infections on Wednesday, almost halve the numbers per day seen in November, but up from approximately daily 600 cases last month.
It has registered 240,391 cases including 9,978 deaths so far.