200417 Sofia
Workers spray disinfectant against the coronavirus outbreak outside St Nedelya church ahead of Orthodox Palm Sunday services in Sofia, Bulgaria, April 11, 2020. Image Credit: Reuters

Sofia: Bulgaria imposed late Thursday a ban on all travel to and from the capital Sofia after a spike in coronavirus infections and the risk for a further spread over the Orthodox Easter.

“From midnight until further notice we are banning the entry and departure from Sofia of all passenger vehicles,” Health Minister Kiril Ananiev announced at a late-night press conference.

Exceptions will be made for transport trucks, ambulances, police cars, vehicles transporting people for treatment or medical staff, he added.

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People travelling for work would need to provide their employer’s contacts in addition to the letter of proof required so far. They would also be allowed to leave and return only during certain hours in the morning and evening.

The strict measures were taken after long lines of vehicles formed at checkpoints around the capital Wednesday and Thursday as many disregarded calls from the authorities and left for the countryside ahead of a four-day Easter holiday in the largely Orthodox Christian country.

Previously Bulgarians have been allowed to travel from the regional centres like Sofia only for work and for a limited number of other reasons such as health treatment or the need to take care of a sick relative.

But Interior Minister Mladen Marinov said that many were faking their letters of proof.

“Over 5,000 vehicles were turned back because they could not prove the necessity and urgency of their trip,” Marinov said late Thursday.

He could not give an exact number but said that probably several times more cars had left the capital.

Bulgaria has been one of the least affected countries in Europe so far, recording 800 novel coronavirus infections and 38 deaths, mostly in the capital Sofia.

The highest daily number so far of 53 new infections was recorded on Thursday.

The chief of the country’s coronavirus taskforce Ventsislav Mutafchiyski cautioned that mathematical modeling showed that authorities wereprobably identifying only two out of every seven infections.