Bulgaria Reports First Coronavirus Cases, Takes Urgent Measures to Curb Spread

Sofia, March 8 (BTA) - The first four cases of the novel coronavirus were reported in Bulgaria early Sunday, prompting the Government to take urgent measures and precautions to counter the spread of the disease.

Four people in Bulgaria have been confirmed infected with coronavirus, the Director of the National Centre of Infectious and Parasitic Diseases, Prof. Todor Kantardjiev, told an urgent briefing here on Sunday.

Two male patients, 27- and 61-years-old, were diagnosed in the northern city of Pleven. A woman of 75 from the north-central city of Gabrovo and a woman from the medical staff of the hospital were she had been admitted, were diagnosed as well.

The first Bulgarian cases - the 27-year-old man in Pleven and the 75-year-old woman in Gabrovo, were announced by the national coronavirus task force at an emergency news conference shortly after midnight on March 8, but their test results were not fully confirmed until the late morning on Sunday. They had been hospitalized with respiratory problems and flu-like symptoms before undergoing coronavirus testing.

The 75-year-old woman lives alone and has not been in contact with anybody who was sick. Neither of the first two patients had been in contact with a person who had travelled to a high-risk country.

The two are reported to be in satisfactory condition and past the worst stage of the disease and the authorities are tracking down the persons the first two patients had been in contact with and are testing them for coronavirus.

The news about the first reported coronavirus cases came after Health Minister Kiril Ananiev issued a decree on Thursday declaring a flu epidemic in the whole of Bulgaria from March 6 to 11. This means suspension of all school classes, children's and women's medical consultations, regular checkups and immunizations, planned surgeries, and visiting hours in all medical treatment facilities.

Response and Measures

Prime Minister Boyko Borissov called an emergency meeting of the Council of Ministers and the coronavirus task force to coordinate the steps of the competent state authorities.

Speaking before the start of the meeting, Borissov urged people not to overstock on food and water, as there are enough supplies available. He ordered Health Minister Kiril Ananiev to personally visit Gabrovo and Pleven and see to it that there is enough protective clothing and masks available. The Prime Minister recalled that an agreement had been reached in Turkey to supply some 50,000 protective masks. Talks are underway with domestic manufacturers to produce the necessary protective clothing and masks.

Borissov further said that indoor public events will not be held. He urged the public to take all disinfection measures and enter or leave the cities with registered coronavirus cases only as a last resort. "Closing cities is an extreme measure, which will create panic," he said, adding that persuasion would be preferred.

Speaking to journalists in Pleven after a meeting of the operational task force there, Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov said that the high-risk groups of foreigners in Pleven, which includes some 200 foreign workers from Italy who travel back and forth every two weeks, will be monitored and tested if necessary.

Karakachanov explained that the measures taken in response to the coronavirus are not repressive, but aim to curb the spread of the disease. Among the measures to be taken are extending the suspension of school classes, and also cancelling university classes. "What's most important is that people don't panic. There's no room for panic in Pleven and across the country," the Deputy Prime Minister said.

The operational task force said that the two coronavirus patients there are in good health. The pulmonary hospital has been quarantined, while 143 people have been placed in home quarantine and are being monitored. None of them have shown any symptoms yet, the task force said.

Earlier on Sunday, the Chief State Health Inspector, Dr Angel Kunchev, said that the situation in Bulgaria is developing in the same way as in other countries where the disease has spread.

Bulgarian medical staff will be given the instructions developed by the Chinese concerning differential diagnosis, treatment and behaviour, he said.

The Gabrovo regional hospital's capacity will be increased. There are plans to provide beds in Pleven's pulmonology and phthisiology clinic, as well as in the infectious diseases clinic, which is located in a separate building, the head of Sofia's Military Medical Academy (MMA) who also heads the coronavirus task force, Gen. Ventsislav Moutafchiiski, explained.

Gen. Moutafchiiski assured that there is enough protective clothing for physicians and nurses, adding that additional supplies will be sent to Gabrovo. There is no panic among the medical staff. Protective means are used in medical emergency centres, patients are given face masks and ambulances are disinfected, he said.

Patient zero is being sought actively, Moutafchiiski said, explaining that this is a very challenging endeavour. Prime Minister Borissov said later that one patient zero likely came from Greece.

Later on Sunday, Health Minister Kiril Ananiev issued orders regarding the confirmed COVID-19 cases in Bulgaria, his Ministry said in a press release.

Quarantine regulations are in force in the two hospitals in Pleven and Gabrovo where the first four cases were detected. A 14-day quarantine is in force in the wards where the patients with the confirmed infection were hospitalized. Admissions and discharges from these wards are suspended until further notice.

Stricter regulations in addition to those for the flu epidemic were enforced in the regions of Gabrovo and Pleven, namely:

- classes and extracurricular activities are suspended in schools, establishments of higher education and other training facilities and organizations;

- nurseries and kindergartens are closed;

- all public events, including culture and sport ones are suspended (cinemas, theatres, concerts, gyms, etc., were many people gather indoor are closed).

The nationwide measures include cancelling cultural events, holding sports events without audiences and banning public events involving children.

The Sofia City Hall cancels all public events in the capital and starts additional disinfection of the public transport and all public offices that work with people.

The authorities also recommend additional disinfection of all public buildings.

The Health Ministry issued recommendations for curbing the spread of the COVID-19. These include washing one's hands regularly and using ethanol-based disinfecting wipes and gels, avoiding contact with sick people, advising those who are sick to wear protective face masks, avoiding crowded areas.

The public is also advised not to stock up on essential foods and medicines and to seek information from the competent institutions, including the Ministry's website.

A hotline (+35928078757) has been set up to answer people's questions about the coronavirus round-the-clock. The Ministry also said that there no room for panic, as the State has taken all necessary measures.

Flights to Italy Cancelled

Low-cost airline Wizz Air said on Sunday it stops flights from Sofia and Varna to Milan, Treviso and Bergamo until April 3 after Italy ordered a quarantine of its northern region in the latest attempt to try to
contain a rapidly growing outbreak of coronavirus.

The passengers with bookings for flights to these cities have been informed of the cancellations, offered alternative routes or cost refund options.

Source: Sofia