UPDATED: Bulgaria announces nationwide restrictions as COVID infections rise

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Bulgaria will close schools, restaurants and shopping malls until the end of March as it battles a surge in COVID-19 infections that have stretched its hospitals, the health minister said on Thursday.

The Balkan country, which is due to hold a national election on April 4, has seen a 40% rise in new infections in the past week. On Thursday alone it reported 4,201 new cases, with 7,804 people in hospitals, including 609 in intensive care.

The centre-right government also closed kindergartens, theatres, cinemas and gyms, and banned large private celebrations.

“The number of infections is on the rise and so is the number of people in hospital with COVID-19, which prompted us to impose nationwide restrictions from Monday for 10 days,” Health Minister Kostadin Angelov told reporters.

He said the government was taking all necessary health safety measures for election day and appealed to opposition parties to avoid using the global pandemic in their campaigns.

The government’s response to the crisis has come under fire from its opponents over what they say is a chaotic approach to restrictive measures and a slow rollout of vaccinations.

With 350,700 Bulgarians vaccinated with a first dose so far, the country of seven million people holds the poorest inoculation record in the 27-nation European Union.

Bulgaria has joined with five other EU member states to raise concerns about the way vaccines are being distributed around the bloc.

Bulgaria has reported a total of 291,769 coronavirus infections and 11,715 deaths since the start of the pandemic

A man wearing a face mask waiting at a public transport stop in Sofia, Bulgaria. EPA-EFE/VASSIL DONEV

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