June 24, 2020 / 9:23 AM / 16 days ago

Bulgarian PM threatens to shut soccer matches to fans after COVID-19 rules violations

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov on Wednesday threatened to impose a ban on spectators at domestic league matches unless social distancing among fans improved.

FILE PHOTO: Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov gestures as he arrives for the second day of the European Union leaders summit, held to discuss the EU's long-term budget for 2021-2027, in Brussels, Belgium, February 21, 2020. REUTERS/Reinhard Krause

The Bulgarian league resumed on June 5 after an almost three-month break due to the novel coronavirus pandemic with supporters allowed at stadiums but there were a number of violations during many matches.

“We gave our players the opportunity to play in front of spectators,” Borissov told a government meeting. “What did the fans do? They gathered together, not wearing protective face masks. What do they want to demonstrate?”

Following the violations in recent weeks, Health Minister Kiril Ananiev issued an order on Monday allowing up to 1,000 spectators in a single stand, urging fans to maintain distance.

Supporters, however, failed to observe the rule during the Bulgarian Cup semi-final second leg between Levski Sofia and Lokomotiv Plovdiv on Tuesday.

“There is a new restriction now at 1,000 people in a sector but I see that they do not observe it again,” Borissov said. “If they continue like this, we will most likely close the stadiums (to fans) as (they did) in Germany, Spain and Italy.”

Sports minister Krasen Kralev on Monday criticised organisers and fans at the Sofia derby between CSKA and Levski for not observing the rules, saying Bulgaria was on the verge of a second COVID-19 wave because of the violations.

The Eternal derby between bitter rivals CSKA and Levski, the Balkan country’s most popular clubs, took place in front of thousands of closely seated and standing fans on Saturday.

Bulgaria decided on Wednesday to extend a state of emergency declared in response to the coronavirus outbreak until July 15 after another jump in new registered cases.

Last week the country reported 606 new COVID-19 cases, its highest weekly rise since the outbreak of the epidemic.

Some 130 new cases were reported on Wednesday, bringing the total to date to 4,114, with 208 deaths.

Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Ken Ferris

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