Bulgaria Mandates Vaccine Pass for Leisure Activities, Less Than a Quarter of Population Vaccinated

By Victor Westerkamp | October 21, 2021
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A protester burns a QR code during a rally against the mandatory COVID-19 health pass in front of the Council of Ministers in Sofia on October 20, 2021.
A protester burns a QR code during a rally against the mandatory COVID-19 health pass in front of the Council of Ministers in Sofia on October 20, 2021. (Image: NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP via Getty Images)

Bulgarian Health Minister Stoicho Katsarov issued a Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)-pass mandate for most leisure activities beginning Oct. 21 in an attempt to increase the nation’s low vaccination rate. 76.4 percent of the country’s 7 million population is unvaccinated.

“The number of new infections and deaths is rising. That forces us to impose additional measures. All activities indoors should be carried out with a green certificate,” Katsarov said on Tuesday, referring to the 214 deaths and 4,979 new cases attributed to COVID-19 in 24 hours, as reported by Reuters.

The green certificate, as the pass is officially called, is an official document encoded in a QR code either in print or on a user’s smartphone that gives proof of the user being fully vaccinated, having a recent negative PCR or antigen test, or having recovered from the disease.

Regarding the duration of this experiment, Katsarov enigmatically said that the measures would be in place for at least two weeks or “until achieving a good result.”

The certificate applies to the following:

  • Indoor hotels, cinemas, theatres, circus performances, concerts, galleries, fitness centers, sports halls, clubs, and shops in malls larger than 300 square meters with the exception of grocery shops, pharmacies, and banks.
  • Indoor sporting is only allowed for registered athletes at licensed federations at the moment for training and competitions, and spectators are not allowed. Outdoor sports events are only accessible to those who can present a Green Certificate.
  • Staff of hospitals and nursing home personnel are required to have a pass. No visits to hospitals and nursing homes are allowed currently.
  • Schools will switch to online classes when COVID-19 morbidity exceeds 750 per 100,000 people on a two-week basis, and will alternate between in-person and distance learning when morbidity is between 500 and 750 per 100,000 people.
  • Teaching staff will not be required to have green certificates, but will need to wear protective masks at school, as will non-teaching staff and students from 5th to 12th grade. Students and staff at universities will need a Green Certificate for in-person studying.
  • Green certificates will not be required for public transport.

Thousands of protestors took to the streets in various cities in the Balkan country on Wednesday. Owners and managers of several restaurants, theaters, and hotels announced they would boycott the pass.

“The vaccination should be purely voluntary. Tomorrow many people would not be able to go to work,” said Kostadin Kostadinov, leader of the patriotic Vazrazhdane (Revival) party and a strong opponent of the Green Pass.

The protest was further endorsed by political organizations from the right and left sides of the political spectrum, including the center-right GERB party and the socialists.

The opposing parties called for interim health minister Katsarov to resign after President Rumen Radev assigned him to temporarily take office. The political parties had failed to agree on a coalition agreement after two rounds of elections earlier this year, with a third-round on its way in November.