Bulgaria launches Covid health pass amid as cases rise

Sofia (AFP) –

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Bulgaria on Tuesday made the coronavirus health pass mandatory for most leisure activities and for entering hotels and restaurants as the least vaccinated EU country battled to contain new cases.

The Green Pass -- an extension of the EU's digital Covid certificate -- will be necessary to enter cinemas, theatres, museums, night clubs and fitness centres and also to eat indoors at cafes and restaurants, stay in hotels or visit football games and other sports events as of Thursday, Health Minister Stoycho Katsarov told a press conference.

Health workers in hospitals and nursing home carers would also need the pass -- proving that they're fully vaccinated, have recovered from Covid-19 within the past six months or have tested negative in the previous 48 hours -- in order to work, he said.

No health pass would be required for teachers but schools in regions with high infection rates will have to switch to online classes.

People without a pass would still be allowed to use public transport and enter grocery and drug stores, banks, administrative buildings and even small shops.

"The measure aims to bring down the number of new infections and ease pressure on hospitals... If not, the only option left is imposing a nationwide lockdown," Katsarov said.

Bulgaria had very lax anti-Covid measures so far. Katsarov said he was aware that introducing the pass was set to spark public discontent.

The country registered a total of 4,979 new infections and 214 deaths on Tuesday, the highest numbers for the fourth wave of the virus.

Many hospitals have warned that they are running out of Covid-19 beds.

It meanwhile remains the least vaccinated nation in the European Union with just over 20 percent of the people fully vaccinated.

The situation was similar in neighbouring Romania on Tuesday when the country registered a record 18,863 new cases and 561 deaths.

Only about 30 percent of the Romanians are fully vaccinated, according to AFP data.

mr-ds/ach