SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria will raise the salaries of all medics involved in treating coronavirus patients by 1,000 levs (461.36 pounds) per month and offer liquidity support for businesses hit by measures to contain the fast-spreading infection, officials said on Sunday.
The Balkan country’s confirmed cases more than doubled to 51 over the weekend. Two people have died from the infection. The country has declared a state of emergency until April 13, closing schools and banning mass gatherings.
Bulgaria’s hospitals, suffering from a chronic shortage of nurses - many of whom have left the European Union’s poorest member state to seek better pay in the west - have already started to hire volunteers to help treat patients.
In a rare demonstration of unity, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and President Rumen Radev stood together appealing to Bulgarians not to yield to panic, but to grasp the gravity of the situation, observe social distancing and show unity and solidarity.
“Everyone that is on the frontline and deals with the coronavirus will get an additional 1,000 levs monthly,” Borissov said, adding that Bulgarian industry is producing protective masks and outfits for the medics.
The government will extend 20 million levs to provide for the increased pay for medics and another 20 million to help municipalities boost food deliveries across the country to disabled people and those put under quarantine.
It will also provide liquidity support through state-run Bulgarian Development Bank to businesses hit by the stringent measures Sofia has imposed to contain the infection, Finance Minister Vladislav Goranov said.
However, he discarded proposals to delay due taxes or credit payments to banks.
In a step to prevent long dole queues, Goranov proposed that businesses planning to lay off workers due to closures of shops, bars and clubs keep them for now, with the state covering 60% of their pay for one month.
Bulgaria is also reviewing its large-scale investment priorities and may delay some army modernisation projects, Goranov said without elaborating. Bulgaria has opened a 1.46 billion lev tender to buy 150 armed vehicles.
The foreign ministry on Sunday urged Bulgarians both in the country and abroad to abstain from international travel.
Dozens of Bulgarians are currently stranded at the border between Croatia and Serbia after Belgrade closed its land frontiers for all passengers coming from France, Germany, Austria or Spain, including for transit travel.
Bulgaria will ban flights from Italy and Spain after March 17.
Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Jan Harvey