Bulgaria ends state of emergency and immediately announces emergency epidemic situation

Bulgaria

During the emergency epidemic situation, the Health Minister is entitled to determine anti-epidemic measures (either for specific regions or for the entire country) and impose each measure via an order.

The measures can include prohibiting the entry of foreign citizens into Bulgaria; mandatory quarantine of people entering from foreign countries; limitations on movement within the territory of Bulgaria; and temporary suspension or limitations on certain types of work (including those involving the general public) or services provided to citizens.

Following the announcement of the emergency epidemic situation, the Health Minister adopted a set of orders for the prevention of the spread of COVID-19. In addition, the government stated its intention to keep many of the measures in place that existed during the state of emergency.

Among others, the measures now in force during the emergency epidemic situation include:

  • Employers must introduce a work-from-home (WFH) policy where possible (identical to the previous state-of-emergency measure). If WFH cannot be applied, employers must ensure that adequate anti-virus measures are applied (e.g. disinfection protocols, instructions on hygiene) and ensure that social distancing of 1.5 m. is kept between individuals both indoors and outdoors.
  • Wearing masks indoors in public places remains mandatory with public places defined as areas that may be accessed by every person, including stores, public transport, administration offices of different bodies, etc. Wearing a mask is also mandatory when the distance between the employee and the client is less than 1.5 m.
  • There is a general prohibition for entering the country from abroad, except for transit (i.e. travelers passing through Bulgaria on their way to another destination). Some of the exceptions to this prohibition include: Bulgarian citizens and their families; EU-citizens (and citizens of countries, which are parties to the Schengen Agreement), non-citizens who permanently, over the long term or continuously reside in Bulgaria with their families; people engaged in transporting goods; or people engaged in the construction, maintenance, operation and security of Bulgaria's strategic and critical infrastructure. There are no longer explicit restrictions barring people from high-risk countries.
  • All individuals that enter in the country are put under mandatory 14-day quarantine. Exceptions to this rule include Bulgarian citizens and citizens of EU countries, that are: traveling for humanitarian reasons; engaged in the strategic and critical infrastructure; truck drivers that perform international deliveries; members of the families of Bulgarian citizens (when they are staying in Bulgaria for up to 7 days), etc. Regardless of their citizenship, quarantine does not apply for foreign officials; people responsible for the delivery of medical supplies and equipment, medical specialists and border workers.

Employment

The amendments to the Health Act that allow employers to introduce WFH or place employees in half of their annual paid leave (even without their consent) will remain in force for two additional months after the state of emergency. In addition, compensation in the amount of 60% of the socially insured income of employees for January 2020 and social-insurance payments on behalf of employers will be granted to employers meeting the qualifications for the period 13 March until 30 June 2020, according to Decree No. 55/2020 of the Council of Ministers.

Any unpaid leave requested by the employee and approved by the employer in 2020 up to 60 days will be included in the length of employment service (where the standard duration is 30 days) and to the length of contributory service, subject to the requirements in the Social Insurance Code.

Finance: payment obligations may be delayed

Any party in a loan agreement who delays the performance of its payment obligations for a period of two months after the end of the state of emergency (i.e. by 14 July 2020) will be exempt from the adverse consequences of this delay, such as default interest and penalties or creditor’s rights to accelerate or terminate a loan. This rule applies when the creditor is a financial institution (an institution other than bank, such as payment instrument provider, financial leasing company, company providing quick customer loans, etc.).

Other forms of financing provided by financial institutions (except for bank affiliates) also fall within the scope of this rule. This limitation on the adverse effects of delays will apply even if the financing has been transferred to another bank, financial institution or third party.

Renewal of terms

The terms (i.e. deadlines) that were suspended by the Emergency Measures Act will begin seven days after the promulgation of the amendments to the Health Act (i.e. starting 21 May 2020). This refers to some prescription and judicial terms, and the terms of administrative acts that were suspended during the state of emergency. (For details on the original Emergency Measures Act, see: Bulgaria: state of emergency legislation published today.

Long-term residence of foreigners

When the long-term residence of a foreigner in Bulgaria expires within three months after the end of the state of emergency, the foreigner can apply for continuation of residence at any time for three months as of the end of the state of emergency. This term will not be considered an interruption when the foreigner applies for long-term or permanent residence. A foreigner with a long-term residence permit that expires during a period of three months after the end of the state of emergency may enter the country without a visa for this period (up to three months after the state-of-emergency's conclusion).

Construction activities at national seaside resorts

There is a ban on construction works in national resorts on the Black sea coast for the period 15 May to 1 October every year.  Since the holiday season this year is scheduled to start later than usual, the ban on construction works in 2020 will begin on 15 June.

For more information on these measures, contact your regular CMS advisor or local CMS experts: Jenia Dimitrova and Zornitsa Stoykova.