Bulgarian restaurant workers protest new COVID-19 pass rule

Protesters carry Bulgarian flags and make noise using restaurant equipment during a national protest of restaurant owners, chefs, waiters, and bartenders, in Sofia, Bulgaria, Thursday Oct. 28, 2021. Thousands people took to the streets in many cities across Bulgaria to demonstrate against a government’s decision to impose a mandatory COVID-19 health pass for access to indoor places. (AP Photo Valentina Petrova)

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Thousands of restaurant owners, chefs, waiters and bartenders took to the streets Thursday in cities across Bulgaria to protest the government’s decision to impose a mandatory COVID-19 health pass on all people seeking to enter indoor entertainment venues.

Restaurant and hospitality associations organized the protest, calling the health certificates “inadequate” and “discriminatory.” Restaurant associations claimed that in the first two days of the new requirement, restaurant attendance dropped 80% nationwide. Critics say the government introduced the requirement too quickly for people to prepare for it.

Bulgaria is facing a surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths amid one of the lowest vaccination rates in the 27-nation European Union. It has had the highest COVID-19 mortality rate in the bloc in the past two weeks and 94% of those deaths were unvaccinated people.

Still, protesters claimed that using the COVID-19 health pass will not solve the country’s outbreak but will only deepen its economic woes. They are demanding that antibody test results be accepted as a basis for such a certificate, that the government offer free tests and that all state and municipal workers be included in the “green certificate” system.

The head of the Association of Restaurants, Richard Alibegov, urged authorities to adopt measures that businesses would be able to comply with.

“I hope that the government will listen to us, because if authorities want the measures to be observed, they must be adequate,” he said. “If a business must choose whether to go bankrupt or comply with the measures, most likely the measures will not be observed and there will be no health benefit.”

The Balkan country of 7 million reported 5,643 new COVID-19 cases and 154 more deaths on Thursday, furthering the rise in new infections since the start of September. Health officials blame public mistrust in vaccines and the government — just 1 in 4 adults in Bulgaria is fully vaccinated — for the current infection spread.

In the capital of Sofia, protesters blocked a major intersection during rush hour, creating traffic chaos. Later, they marched to the government headquarters to demand the resignation of the health minister and warned that they will keep up the pressure on the government until their demands are met.

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