Bulgaria cautious about easing anti-epidemic measures amid concern over new Covid-19 variant

Bulgaria cautious about easing anti-epidemic measures amid concern over new Covid-19 variant

In spite of improving figures about the Covid-19 situation in Bulgaria, the country’s government remains cautious about easing anti-epidemic measures, amid concerns about the threat from new variants of the virus. This emerged from a January 21 briefing by Prime Minister Boiko Borissov and Bulgaria’s top health officials. Borissov told the briefing that optimism in Bulgaria on the basis of the indicators about Covid-19 was very sharply challenged by doctors. A decision about easing measures would be made at the end of January on the basis of the rate of morbidity. At the same time, he hinted that it was possible that the only easing would involve allowing the return to in-person classes of fifth to 12th grade pupils. Borissov added that if the morbidity situation improved, there would be talks with the restaurant industry about under what conditions they would be allowed to open. Health Minister Kostadin Angelov told the briefing that the trend of the number of people who had recovered from the virus exceeding the number of newly-infected was continuing. Angelov said that in the past seven days, 31 456 people in Bulgaria had recovered from Covid-19, while the number of newly-confirmed cases was 2993.Twenty-nine per cent of the hospital beds for Covid-19 patients not in need of intensive care were occupied. Chief State Health Inspector Angel Kunchev said that the district of Razgrad had, for the first time in several months, fallen into the second category – yellow – in the rate of morbidity, between 20 and 60 per 100 000 population. Half of the other areas had a rate of morbidity between 60 and 120 per 100 000 population. The highest incidence in the past week was in the district of Vratsa, 186, followed by Bourgas and Pleven, each 169, and Pernik, 163. The lowest incidence was in Razgrad, 59 per 100 000.Referring to the new variant – Kunchev said that it was correct to call it a variant “because the changes are so small that we cannot call it a strain” – he said that there was extreme concern about the situation in the United Kingdom, Ireland and to some extent the Netherlands. “The good thing about it is that it does not lead to more serious diseases, the bad thing is that it spreads faster, based on the high concentration we find in people’s nasopharynx – it is between 10 and 100 times higher, which means that its infectivity is many times greater.”

Kunchev warned against hurrying to ease anti-epidemic measures. “From a purely medical point of view, we are in a great situation, but if we hurry and go to extreme loosening, we will very quickly face major problems,” he said. Major-General Ventsislav Mutafchiyski, head of the national operational headquarters against Covid-19, also warned against hastening to ease the measures, warning of a risk of a burden on Bulgaria’s health system. “The losses will be much heavier and we need to be extremely careful about which measures to take and when to loosen them,” he said. Next week, 14 040 doses of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine are expected to arrive, which will compensate for the part that did not arrive this week, Medicines Agency head Bogdan Kirilov said. A further 83 000 doses are expected in February and 104 000 in March, he said. If the AstraZeneca vaccine is approved, initial indications are that Bulgaria will receive hundreds of thousands of doses in March, Kirilov said. The head of the national vaccination headquarters, Krassimir Gigov, said that there was no delay in the process of vaccination against Covid-19.Gigov said that so far, 46 per cent of doctors who wanted the vaccine had been immunised, as head 23 per cent of nurses and 19 per cent of hospital staff who had said they wanted to be vaccinated. Angelov said that according to preliminary data, more than 5.8 million people in Bulgaria would be able to be immunised with the vaccines that would arrive before the end of the year.

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