Take two: Masks mandatory in public spaces, again, from April 12

Bulgarian Orthodox Church to hold open masses for easter and Palm Sunday

Take two: Masks mandatory in public spaces, again, from April 12

PM Boyko Borissov declared on Saturday during a daily briefing that wearing a mask in public places will be mandatory starting Saturday, April 12. Borissov said a new order by the Health Minister Kiril Ananiev is pending any moment to reflect the decision. The order should enact the rule as of midnight tonight.

Less than two weeks ago, on March 30, the minister issued an order mandating masks in public spaces only for it to be canceled less than a day later. The supply chain was already in shortage of masks, so the minister’s order – which essentially meant everybody had to precure a mask in less than a day – produced backlash. The government – seemingly – folded and the minister revoked the order.

This time the fast-pacing by the government is likely due to Palm Sunday, which together with Good Friday, Holy Sunday and Easter are the most attended Christian holidays of the year. The Bulgarian Orthodox Church refused to hold closed masses, downplaying the threat inside the sanctuary and arguing the church could not close its doors for believers. Although other churches in other countries, as well as other religions in Bulgaria took definite measures to limit or cancel attendance during service altogether, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church is unwilling to impose any serious measures besides disinfecting, promising to keep people at the prescribed distance of two meters, skipping the tradition of giving out willow branches and the like.

The head of the coronavirus crisis response team, General Ventsislav Mutafchiyski has urged the public and the government in more than one occasion to skip open masses but to no avail. PM Boyko Borissov told a journalist a few weeks back in this respect "[he] does not meddle in God’s affairs."

Bulgaria is keeping the number of coronavirus patients relatively low. Today, a little over a month since the firs confirmed case (March 8), the number of confirmed cases is 661; the number of deaths is 28. The rise in cases has not been exponential. Bulgaria imposed the first restrictive measures on the day of the first confirmed case and declared a state of emergency several days later. Ever since the coronavirus response team and other officials have maintained the peak of the virus spread is expected in the second half of April and first half of May, which coincides with the Easter holidays.

Many fear the Easter holidays - given the lack of special measures concerning the Bulgarian Orthodox Church - could cancel out much of the efforts to contain the virus, assuming the measures have affected the numbers thus far.

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