Nearly a thousand people gathered in Bulgaria’s capital of Sofia to oppose the nation’s COVID-19 regulations.
The protestors oppose the government’s plan to remove the restrictions implemented during the pandemic over the course of weeks. Instead, want the mask mandates lifted immediately.
Gathered in front of the National Assembly, participants also called for the immediate end to the use of health passes, which proves vaccination status or recent recovery from COVID-19. Bulgarians currently need to show the passes to enter indoor locations.
The nation’s chief health inspector Angel Kunchev said in an announcement this week that the government intends to have repealed all COVID-19 restrictions by March 20. At that time, the passes will only be needed for those traveling outside the country.
“The Balkan country of 6.5 million people has witnessed a decrease in coronavirus cases over the course of this month,” reports AP News. “On Wednesday, it reported 4,667 new daily infections, while at the peak of the current wave, at the end of January, more than 12,000 new daily cases were reported.”
Vaccine compliance is low in Bulgaria. Approximately one out of three adults have received the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Feb. 23 protest was organized by the nationalist Revival (Vazrazhdane) Party. Many of the protestors carried the Bulgarian flag, chanted “Freedom!” and carried banners that read “I want a normal life” and “COVID is a tyranny, not a pandemic.”
“The protest is not focused only on the abolition of the green certificate, we will protest for a normal way of governing the country. We want all restrictive measures to be lifted,” said Kostadin Kostadinov, the party’s leader, in a Feb. 12 statement.
“It’s a matter of political diversion. The problems are created by politicians and must be solved by politicians,” Kostadinov added. “We have a duty to help the government by offering solutions that it can implement.”
Prime Minister Kiril Petkov noted in his address to the protesters that the health passes were implemented in connection to several COVID-19 cases that required treatment in intensive care units.
“For 13 years, you have been robbed, until now. Our health system is in shambles. If we do not work together to fix the country, we stand no chance,” the prime minister said.
Petkov took office in December after Boyko Borissov led the country for over a decade. Borissov’s government became increasingly unpopular due to its high-level corruption.
Under the government’s current plan, the first wave of COVID-19 restrictions will be repealed on Feb. 24. Patrons will not need to show health passes to enter bars, gyms, cinemas, and shopping malls. Foreign travelers with health passes will be allowed to enter on March 5.