March 17, 2020 / 5:03 PM / 18 days ago

Bulgaria bans all holiday trips until mid-April

FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing protective face mask walks past closed shops in a shopping mall as only pharmacies, supermarkets and bank offices remain open, due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Sofia, Bulgaria March 14, 2020. REUTERS/Dimitar Kyosemarliev/File Photo

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria banned all foreign and domestic holiday trips until April 13 on Tuesday as part of efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The Balkan country, with 81 confirmed cases of the new virus and two deaths, has already declared a state of emergency and closed schools, bars and many shops.

The temporary holiday ban represents another heavy economic blow for Bulgaria, the EU’s poorest member state, which relies on tourism for about 8% of its economic output.

Announcing the restrictions, Tourism Minister Nikolina Angelkova said it would be irresponsible for people to travel for a vacation during the crisis.

“It is very hard for me as a tourism minister to say that, but this is very important for the health of the people,” she added.

Bulgaria has already announced it will forbid people from 15 countries from entering the country, as of Wednesday, and many foreign holidaymakers have cancelled reservations at Bulgarian resorts.

Two large winter resorts, Bansko in Pirin and Pamporovo in the Rhodope mountains, closed their ski facilities on Monday after a British tourist in Bansko tested positive for the virus. Two other people in the resort tested positive on Tuesday.

Angelkova expressed hope that the situation would improve by the summer, when tourists traditionally flock to Bulgaria’s Black Sea resorts, but she warned that bankruptcies in the country’s hospitality sector could not be ruled out.

“It is impossible for the time being to forecast whether we will have a summer tourism season at all.”

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Pravin Char

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