It seems like a week is a long time in politics in Bulgaria.
On March 11, Health Minister Kostadin Angelov said that the COVID-19 outbreak in the country was “serious but under control.”
On March 18, with the increase in hospitalizations and deaths, Angelov issued a closure order, including restaurants, cafes, shopping centers, schools and kindergartens. The strictest restrictions will last 10 days, and only pharmacies, grocery stores and small businesses will remain open.
“It might seem like we made inconsistent decisions,” Angelov said in announcing the closure. “I want to assure you that all the decisions we have made so far have been based on science and everything that happens around us.”
COVID-19 cases increase in Bulgaria
Coronavirus cases are increasing. 4,000 new infections were reported on March 19.
Hospitalizations are also reaching an all-time high since the start of the pandemic: 8,082 patients are currently being treated in medical facilities in Bulgaria. There are 670 people who are being treated for the disease in intensive care.
Hospitals in some regions are completely overrun. Ambulances have had to transport emergency patients to different hospitals, looking for a free COVID bed. Medical facilities have suspended planned operations to free staff.
As of March 16, just over 50% of all hospital beds in Bulgaria were occupied, but COVID wards are at or near max.
A week ago, the director of the academy of military medicine, Ventsislav Mutafchiyski, warned of the incoming increase.
“There are hospitals that are full or almost full,” he said. “This morning there were five free beds in the Military Medical Academy and three people in the emergency room. [intensive care] waiting to be admitted.
“By the time I get back to work after this briefing, all the free beds will be taken. Things are not going well and we must take action.”
‘People are not prepared for more restrictions’
Angelov, speaking at the same press conference as Mutafchiyski, opposed any further restrictions.
“We are not ready for another lockdown,” he said. “It may make sense from a medical point of view, but people are not ready for it.”
“We cannot tighten restrictions when people don’t believe in them.”
Infection rates have risen steadily since February.
But amid protests and growing discontent among restaurant owners, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov bowed to their demands and reopened all the venues.
“On March 1, the restaurants will open,” he ordered Angelov during a visit to a hospital in northern Bulgaria on February 14.
“End of discussion. Even if there are 2,000-3,000 COVID cases a day, we will open up. The wave should have passed by then.”
Elections are coming
Fast forward to March 19 and new restrictions were announced.
The new measures will not reach a total lockdown, which Prime Minister Borissov has been reluctant to impose amid a wave of protests in the summer of 2020 and ahead of a parliamentary vote on April 4.
Borissov could take advantage of this anxiety-provoking context to win the election, experts say.
According to the latest poll published on Thursday, Borissov’s Gerb party is leading the way in voting intentions (28.8%), despite last summer’s protest movement. The divided socialist opposition is credited with about 23% of the vote.
This third wave “is fueling concerns and fears, which should lead to low turnout in the elections,” said Dimitar Ganev, analyst at research firm Trend, for BGNes, noting that uncertainty generally favored the status quo. .
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism