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Hours before the official end of the state of emergency declared in the country, the Acton Amendments and Supplements to the Health Act was promulgated in the State Gazette. The amendments aim to regulate anti-epidemic measures after the lifting of the state of emergency as of 14.05.2020.
As expected, the Act amends more than 10 laws, including the Act on Measures andActions during the State of Emergency, announced by a decision of the National Assembly of March 13, 2020.
What does the Act provide for and what are the new opportunities and restrictions forindividuals and legal entities?
The main text in the Health Act, which the Act on Amendments amends, is the provision of Art. 63. An opportunity has been introduced for the Council of Ministers, atthe proposal of the Minister of Health, to declare an “emergency epidemic situation” in the country under certain conditions and in the presence of one of eight exhaustively listed criteria justifying immediate danger to life and health of citizens from the epidemic spread of the contagious disease. The term is legally defined as “a disaster caused by a contagious disease which leads to an epidemic distribution with direct danger to the life and health of citizens, the prevention and overcoming of which requires more than the usual activities to protect and preserve the life and health of citizens.”
Already, with the promulgation of the Act on Amendments and Supplements to the Health Act,the Council of Ministers has announced an emergency epidemic situation (EES) in the country for the period 14.05.2020 – 14.06.2020.
The anti-epidemic measures themselves during the EES are introduced by an order ofthe Minister of Health. The measures may include restrictions on the entry of citizens of other countries on the territory of Bulgaria, as well as restrictions on the movement on the territory of the country and the mode ofoperation of public facilities and/or other facilities or services. The orders have the nature of general administrative acts and are subject to appeal under the Administrative procedural code.
At the moment, the Minister of Health has already issued 4 orders, which will be discussed in a separate article.
The citizens who are a subject to obligatory isolation, hospital treatment and quarantine have been defined, and theconditions and the term for this are determined again by an order of the Minister of Health in accordance with the epidemic risk.
Some powersin regard to the above are also given to the directors of the regional health inspectorates.
Fornon-compliance with the introduced anti-epidemic measures, an administrativesanction was introduced – a fine from 300 to 1000 BGN, and in case of repeated violation – from 1000 to 2000 BGN.
A 5000 BGNfine is provided for a person who violates mandatory isolation and/or treatment. It is also noteworthy that the provision does not include the term”quarantine”, which could raise the question of whether the sanction can be imposed on citizens who have violated mandatory quarantine.
As mentioned above, legal definitions of “emergency epidemic situation”,”quarantine” and “isolation” have been introduced.
Significant amendments have been introduced to the Act on Measures and Actions during the State of Emergency, announced by a decision of the National Assembly of March13, 2020. The title of the Act is supplemented with the words “and to overcome the consequences” which clearly defines the guidelines of the amendments adopted in the texts of the Act.
The following terms are extended by 2 months after the lifting of the state of emergency:
– The term for suspension of public sales and entry into possession. The novelty here is that this extended term can be used only by individuals. Therefore, public sales and entries into possession against legal entities are now possible.
– Theperiod in which blocking of an account can be imposed on the bank accounts of individuals. However, the restriction now also applies to bank accounts of municipalities.
– Up to two months after the lifting of the state of emergency, no interest for delay and penalties shall be accrued, the obligations under credit agreements and other forms of financing provided by financial institutions under Art. 3 of the Credit Institutions Act cannot be declared pre-term due. The institutions under Art. 3 of the Credit Institutions Act are the so-called fast loan companies and collection companies. The amendments exclude bank loans from the scope of the provision. Debtors on bank loans have the opportunity to take advantage of theterms of the procedure for deferral and settlement of liabilities on loans to individuals and legal entities to banks and their subsidiaries, announced by the National bank on 10.04.2020.
It is also important that the deadlines that ceased to run during the state of emergency under the Act on Measures and Actions during the State of Emergency, declared by a decision of the National Assembly of March 13, 2020, and to overcome the consequences, continue to run after the expiration of 7 days after the promulgation of this Act in the State Gazette.
Two months after the date of lifting the state of emergency, many of the measures introduced by the Act have been extended. Below we will only review some ofthem.
During thestate of emergency and two months after its lifting, the provisions of the Public Procurement Act shall not apply to those referred to in Art. 13 of the Actprocedures. However, the measure already covers transport services. Contractorson public procurement may now request a renegotiation of the implementation period by up to two months after the lifting of the state of emergency.
Two months after the lifting of the state of emergency, employers will have the opportunity to assign working at home or remote-work to their employees without their consent, as well as to provide on their own initiative up to one-half of the employee’s paid annual leave.
Amendments have also been introduced in the measures concerning social and family aid, accommodationin specialized institutions and social services in the community of resident type.
The presence of children and students on the territory of institutions of the system of preschool and school education is allowed only for the implementationof urgent activities at the end of the school year 2019-2020 and for the preparation of the school year 2020-2021.
An opportunity to receive a state aid from tour operators who use airlines with a Bulgarian operating license to operate charter flights to the Republic ofBulgaria for tourism purposes has also been introduced. Under certain conditions, tour operators who use the services of airlines with an operating license issued in another country can also benefit from the state aid.
With the Act on Amendments and supplements to the Health Act a number of other pieces of legislation have been amended, including the Act on Foreigners in the Republic of Bulgaria, the Labor Code, the Act on Civil Servants, the Act on State Property, the Act on the Budget of the National Health Insurance Fund for 2020,the Act on Protection and development of culture, the Cultural Heritage Act,the Water Act, the Excise Duties and Tax Warehouses Act, the Act on Amendment sand Supplements to the Corporate Income Tax Act, the Local Self-Government andLocal Administration Act, etc.
We will notcomment in detail on the amendments to each of the Acts listed above, but we would like to draw attention to some of them which we find would be of interest.
The unpaid leave under Art. 160, para. 1 of the Labor Code up to 60 working days, used in 2020, is considered work experience/service.
During the school year 2019-2020 at the end of IV and X grade no national external assessment will be carried out under Art. 119, para. 3 of the Preschool andSchool Education Act to establish the degree of achievement of competencies for the respective stage.
To ensure energy security, the price/regulatory period ending on June 30, 2020 related prices of companies in the Electricity sector may be extended by up to two months as of the date of expiry of the period.
For the summer season 2020, as of June 1, 2020, the concessionaire and the tenant under a valid contract for concession for a sea beach, respectively for rent of a sea beach shall provide the visitors of the beach with umbrellas and sunbeds, at prices reduced by no less than 50% of the prices for the 2019 season or of the maximum price as defined under the respective contract. Violation of the above is secured by severe administrative sanctions between 50 000 and 100000 BGN.
However,the concessionaire and the tenant have the opportunity to apply for a reduction in the amount of the concession fee or the rental price for 2020, which shall corresponds a percentage to the reduction in the prices of the beach accessories. The concessionaire pays its concession fee for 2020 no later than November 30,2020, and when the fee or price has already been paid in full or partially, the respective reduced part is deducted from the concession fee, respectively from the rental price for 2021.
The period/term of the concession or the rent may be extended at the proposal of the concessionaire, respectively the tenant with a period/term no longer than oneyear, regardless of whether the statutory maximum period/term for the respective type of contracts is exceeded, and the grantor or the landlord may accept or reject the offer.
The concessionaire under a sea beach concession contract may propose postponement,reduction or redirection of part or all of the investments which he must makefor 2020 and 2021 under the concession contract.
In 2020,the ban on construction and installation works in the national resorts on the Black Sea coast under Art. 15 of the Act on the Development of the Black SeaCoast shall be valid as of June 15 to October 1.
The Act on Amendments and supplements to the Health Act enters into force on 14.05.2020. In the meantime, the President has referred part of the amendments to the Constitutional Court and disputed some of the measures set out in the Health act, especially with regard to the very broad powers of the executive authorities at the expense of the legislature.
The Murgova and Partners Attorneys at Law team monitors all changes in the legislation and is available for further clarification on the issues raised in this article. We can also assist in all specific legal issues that the Act raises.