Severity: Critical Alert

Exit/Entry: Bulgaria extends coronavirus disease (COVID-19)-related epidemic emergency until July 31; new restrictions possible.

  • Alert Begins: 15 Jul 2020 03:17 PM UTC
  • Alert Expires: 31 Jul 2020 11:59 PM UTC
  • Incident: COVID-19 restrictions
  • Location(s): Nationwide (map)
  • Time Frame: Indefinite
  • Impact: Travel and business disruptions

Bulgarian authorities have extended the nation's epidemic emergency until July 31 as part of their effort to contain the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The move comes in response to a nationwide increase in infection rates. Nevertheless, the government in Sofia is yet to introduce new restrictions or tighten existing ones. The epidemic emergency was originally slated to expire June 30.

Bulgaria currently allows citizens of the EU and the Schengen Area to enter the country. Additionally, all medical professionals, transport staff, foreign officials, seasonal workers, and persons traveling for humanitarian reasons are being granted entry regardless of their country of citizenship. Moreover, EU and Schengen Area citizens traveling for humanitarian reasons or for trade, economic, and investment activities are exempt from Bulgaria's 14-day quarantine requirement, as are freight transporters, medical workers, foreign officials, and cross-border workers. The quarantine remains in place for citizens of Sweden, Belgium, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Malta, Italy, and all non-EU and Schengen countries, with the exception of Serbia. It is not clear if authorities require self-quarantine or quarantine in an authorized facility.

Bulgaria began easing its COVID-19-related restrictions May 9 when the government lifted its nationwide ban on intercity travel and allowed various public spaces to reopen. Authorities have since allowed a number of other types of facilities and businesses to resume operations, including restaurants, bars, cafes, museums, galleries, cinemas, libraries, shopping malls, and gyms, provided they comply with certain mandates aimed at preventing any spike in COVID-19 activity. Such directives include adhering to social distancing guidelines, implementing enhanced sanitation procedures, and operating at reduced capacity, among other things. Facemasks are mandatory in all indoor public spaces.

Sofia International Airport (SOF) remains open, albeit operating on a severely reduced schedule. Authorities may extend or otherwise amend restrictions in the coming days in response to disease activity in the country.

Background and Analysis
While Bulgaria has previously taken steps to ease COVID-19 restrictions, authorities warned that restrictive measures could be reintroduced if disease activity in the country increases. Mandatory social distancing measures and use of facemasks in public places and on public transport, as well as widespread voluntary “self-policing” by residents, will assist in reducing the potential for contagion, negating the necessity for a large-scale, blanket reintroduction of significant restrictions.

COVID-19 is a viral respiratory disease caused by infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus (previously known as 2019-nCoV). Symptoms occur 1-14 days following exposure (average of 3-7 days). These symptoms include fever, fatigue, cough, difficulty breathing, sometimes worsening to pneumonia and kidney failure - especially in those with underlying medical conditions. On March 11, the WHO declared the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.

Follow all official instructions. Abide by national health and safety measures. Reconfirm all travel arrangements. Consider delaying traveling if experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19, as they may prompt increased scrutiny and delays. Liaise with trusted contacts for further updates and guidance. Maintain contact with your diplomatic representation. Ensure contingency plans account for further disruptive measures or extensions of current restrictions.

Emphasize basic health precautions, especially frequent handwashing with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable. Practice good coughing/sneezing etiquette (i.e., covering coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue, maintaining distance from others, and washing hands). There is no evidence that the influenza vaccine, antibiotics, or antiviral medications will prevent this disease, highlighting the importance of diligent basic health precautions.

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