Wearing masks in open public spaces no longer mandatory, access to Vitosha opens

Small parks in Sofia will open Monday

Wearing masks in open public spaces no longer mandatory, access to Vitosha opens

Health Minister Kiril Ananiev issued an order today revoking the rule mandating people wear masks in open public spaces. Masks remain a requirement in closed public spaces, however, including in stores, public buildings etc.

Access to parks will also be further loosened. Last week the minister left it to municipal governments to decide whether to open parks for parents with young children and pet owners. Initially, the minister was expected to include pregnant women and people wishing to exercise in parks as well, but his final order included only the former two groups.

Regardless, Sofia Municipality issued guidelines on its site, allowing all the above mentioned, along with specific regulations to be followed while in the park, entry and exit points, hours when specific groups are allowed in the parks, etc. This applied to the larger parks in Sofia. Mayor Yordanka Fandakova said the local government is planning to open other parks in the coming week as well: they will be opened as of next Monday, May 4.

Monday will also mark the end of the strict routes one was to follow if going to the park. The routes started at a specific entry point in the park, ran along a certain path and ended at an exit point at an opposite side of the park. The measure raised an obvious concern: the principal goal of the measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus was physical distance, yet people were constricted to a single path in the park they visited.

People should still keep a distance of at least 2,5 meters in all cases. Hour slots for park visits stand as well: 9:30 AM till 6:30 PM are hours reserved for parents with children up to 12 years old. The time before and after this period is for people with pets or exercising. The official guidelines from Sofia Municipality does not give a specific time slot for pregnant women.

One particularly anticipated space to lift restrictions has been Vitosha mountain, which Fandakova closed to citizens in the early days of the emergency measures. Vitosha will open for visits from this Sunday, May 3. However, public transport to Vitosha will not resume. This means Vitosha will be accessible only via car, by foot or bike.  Other national parks also will open but it is unclear how people could get to them as checkpoints at entry points of cities still remain.

People may pass through checkpoints in cases of emergency, for work or to take case of a loved one. Most national parks are outside city territory (Vitosha’s entry falls within Sofia). Allowing access to those parks without including hiking as a legitimate reason to pass the checkpoints makes the lifted restriction inapplicable: one may enter the park but is still not permitted to reach it. The long weekend, for example, prompted many citizens of Sofia to leave the city. A reported 40’000 cars have exited Sofia and about 8000 were not allowed to pass, having had given “unjustified reason” for travel.

Meanwhile 54 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed by Friday morning since Thursday, and 14 more over the course of the day. The total number of cases has now reached 1555. 317 are currently hospitalized, 43 are in ICUs.

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