SOFIA (Reuters) – About 1,000 Bulgarian demonstrators gathered in downtown Sofia on Wednesday to protest against curbs imposed to combat COVID-19 and rampant inflation at a rally organised by the opposition ultra-nationalist Revival party.
Holding banners reading “I want a normal life,” and “COVID is a tyranny, not a pandemic” the demonstrators booed as Prime Minister Kiril Petkov addressed them.
Bulgaria, where scepticism about vaccines and entrenched distrust of government institutions has meant fewer than one in three adults are inoculated against the coronavirus, has seen infections drop in recent weeks after they peaked at the end of January, prompting the government to start easing restrictions.
But Wednesday’s protesters demanded that the compulsory health pass to access leisure venues and testing for the virus in schools as well as wearing of face masks in enclosed spaces be scrapped immediately.
“First the green certificates: they say they will lift them. This is a promise I do not believe,” said teacher Galya Nedialkova, who also criticised the sharp rise in prices. “How do you think people on the minimum wage are living?… I am here because I am angry.”
Annual consumer price inflation, fuelled by a spike in energy costs, jumped to a 13-year high of 9.1% in January. The government has frozen electricity prices for households and sees inflation easing in the second half of 2022.
Petkov’s centrist government took office in December after widespread anger over high-level corruption ended the more than decade-long premiership of Boyko Borissov.
Petkov, who plans to abolish the health pass on March 20, appealed to protesters to set their frustrations to one side.
“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,” he said, noting that the health pass system was linked to the number of people in intensive care units.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; editing by John Stonestreet)