“EU solidarity has been broken into million pieces. There is no such thing right now. This is war.”
Prime Minster Boyko Borissov
Bulgaria hasn’t been in a state of emergency since World War Two. Nobody could have guessed that the parliament will vote by unanimity the first state of emergency in the democratic history of Bulgaria on the 13th of March 2020, just 10 days after celebrating 142 years of freedom.
The novel Coronavirus has put thousands of people in lockdown, unable to leave their cities, except for work duties, seeking urgent medical assistance or returning from a journey. Those who are put under obligatory quarantine, disobey the orders and leave their homes for any trivial reason (7,000 people), face up to 5 years in jail and 50,000 leva fine (25,000 Euros). Hundreds of flights are cancelled, foreign nationals are sent back to their country of origin with charter flights, as soon as possible. Bulgarians studying abroad are coming back to the country, uncertain when they will resume their education overseas. Thousands of people are left jobless; the government has told students they don’t know the date they will go back to class.
Only 10 days were needed to completely transform the life we’ve known for decades. People are scared they will go bankrupt, being incapable to pay their monthly bills and rents, even though Sofia has promised it will compensate 60% of the salaries of the most affected ones. An unforeseen and most definitely unprecedented economic crisis will be detrimental for a country, whose economy has just started to grow in positive figures. But for now, the economy has been put at the back rows. Hopes for capital injections from the EU are wrapped in ambiguity, as PM Borissov said today, there is ‘no EU Coronavirus money’.
Around 190 Bulgarians have been tested positive for COVID-19 so far. 3 of them have passed away, 30 are in close medical observation in hospitals. Most of the patients are registered in the capital Sofia, one of the most famous ski resorts on the Balkan Peninsula – Bansko, is locked down in a complete quarantine, nobody is allowed in or out. Many other major cities – Plovdiv, Bourgas, Stara Zagora, Varna, have recently reported their first cases. People commuting to work outside of their cities or towns are required a signed declaration from their employers, otherwise, they will be refused to re-entry their homes. Everyone who enters Bulgaria now will be placed into mandatory quarantine for 14 days, regardless of nationality.
Bulgarian parliament, 20th of March
The first COVID-19 case was reported on the 8th of March. So far, the most affected age group in Bulgaria are the people between 40 and 42 years old (29%), followed by those between 20 and 29, and 50 – 59 years of age (both account for 16%). The 3 people who have unfortunately passed away are all elderly and with underlying health conditions, apart from contracting the Coronavirus. What seems to be the biggest problem for Bulgaria is the fact that more than 2 million of the whole population of 7 million people are pensioners, who, according to health officials, are the most vulnerable group. Elderly citizens are strictly advised not to leave their homes and they have been given special hours to visit the supermarkets, from 8:30 AM to 10:30 AM each day.
The current state of emergency is aimed to last until mid-April, but the government is warning that it could be prolonged, as the peak of the virus is expected in 2-3 weeks. The only open places are pharmacies, banks, grocery stores, insurance companies, and governmental entities. One of the biggest concert arenas in the country are currently being converted into on-the-go hospitals, in case the situation escalates uncontrollably and there are no more beds for patients in state medical institutions. Although many Bulgarians, especially younger ones, are meeting the measures with a great amount of resistance, the country is ready to do anything to prevent an Italy-wise situation.
Arena Armeets, Sofia
In the middle of this health, social & economic crisis, a further dispute is taking place between Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and President Rumen Radev, who just imposed a partial veto on the new emergency state law. Furthermore, in a media briefing today, PM Borissov said Bulgaria is taking no money from the EU to fight Coronavirus, even though just a couple of days ago news emerged that over a billion Euros will be given to the country. PM explained that “Bulgaria and the EU will just redistribute EU funds, initially allocated to other sectors”.
Borissov didn’t save his emotional temper either: “Everybody is speaking for solidarity these days. This European solidarity has burst into pieces. Don’t you see what’s going on? Borders closing everywhere, not letting even European citizens cross over, everybody is saving themselves first. This is a war we are fighting; I’m on the phone all the time with my colleagues.”
The battle with the Coronavirus has been compared to the WW2 mayhem and Europe hasn’t faced such a threat for more than half a century. The global economy is slowly relapsing, many lives are taken, supermarkets are left empty, struggling to provide basic necessities to all panicked customers. Many tourists are stranded in airports, the transport sector is fundamentally damaged, people in the United States are equipping themselves with guns and ammunition. Is this really a war going on?
It is insane to witness how the lives of all of us can change so rapidly and be turned upside down for seconds. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected, scared and feeling uncertain about the future. One is for sure – the world we knew will never exist in the same way it did. Once more, humankind will have to adapt to a new pace of life. Let’s hope it will be for good.
Images: Facebook: Boyko Borissov, Bulgarian National Television