Severity: Critical Alert

Entry/Exit: Bulgaria lifts COVID-19-related prohibition on entry by EU and Schengen Area citizens as of May 22. More restrictions to be eased.

This alert affects Bulgaria

This alert began 27 May 2020 18:23 GMT and is scheduled to expire 14 Jun 2020 23:59 GMT.

  • Incident: COVID-19 restrictions
  • Location(s): Nationwide (map)
  • Time Frame: Indefinite
  • Impact: Travel and business disruptions

Summary
Bulgarian authorities lifted their prohibition on citizens of the EU and the Schengen Area entering the country as of May 22; the government in Sofia had initially implemented the ban in April as part of its effort to stem the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). 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 will be exempt from Bulgaria's 14-day quarantine requirement, as will freight transporters, medical workers, foreign officials, and cross-border workers.

Authorities will also be allowing theaters and concert halls to resume operating starting June 1, albeit at reduced capacity (30 percent for indoor events and 50 percent for outdoor events). In addition, indoor areas of restaurants, bars, cafes, and children's and sports facilities will be allowed to reopen.

Bulgaria began drawing down its COVID-19-related restrictions on 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 museums, galleries, cinemas, libraries, shopping malls, and gyms, under the proviso that 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. The country's health state of emergency has been downgraded to a declaration of an epidemic situation that will remain in effect until at least June 14.

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
The measures taken by the government of Bulgaria are similar to actions taken by other regional governments in recent days in response to the spread of COVID-19. 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.

Advice
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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