Effect of anti-epidemic measures on public premises – shops, hairdressing and beauty salons
Due to the spread of the infection with SARS-CoV-2 – the virus responsible for COVID-19, on March 13, 2020 the National Assembly declared a state of emergency across the country to be effective until April 13, 2020. On the same day the Minister of Health issued Order No. РД-01-124 / 13.03.2013, which is valid until March 29, thereby suspending all visits to major shopping centres (i.e. malls), with the exception of banking and insurance offices, grocery stores and pharmacies inside such malls, all entertainment establishments (discos, bars, restaurants and cafes) and gaming halls, but not to other shops that may continue to operate under strict sanitary requirements. Restaurants and fast food establishments were permitted to make deliveries, so long as they comply with all sanitary and hygiene requirements.
The purpose of the order is to avoid any crowding of people.
According to item 5 of the Order, all mass events, including sports, cultural, entertaining and scientific events (cinemas, theatres, concerts, museums, conferences, symposia, sports and SPA centres, gyms, etc.) have been suspended. This is an additional measure that should be interpreted and implemented taking into account the restrictions imposed on visits to public premises, some of which are explicitly mentioned in point 1 of the order and others are expressly mentioned in the definition in §1, item 9 of the Additional Provisions of the Health Act. The public significance of the site in question should always be taken into consideration.
Although the restrictions in the Order do not affect many types of public premises, which were not explicitly mentioned, when considering whether a public site can continue to operate in compliance with the requirements of the health authorities, two cumulative requirements should be taken into account. The latter include the ban on crowding of people and the possibility of applying strict sanitary requirements. Therefore, for example, sports facilities, SPA and wellness centres, public baths, i.e. sites, which are not explicitly mentioned in the Minister's Order, are more likely to be subject to the above restrictions and should suspend their commercial activity, insofar as it is aimed at mass events within the meaning of the restrictions. The companies operating such premises are entitled to evaluate the extent to which the force majeure institute is applicable in their case in order to reduce the adverse effects on their business. Of course, exceptions to this Order may be allowed given the two mandatory prerequisites introduced above – if there is no crowding of people and if there is possibility of applying strict sanitary measures.
Hotels and other places for accommodation remained outside the public premises explicitly listed in the Order. The minister however made it clear that they could continue to operate if they are able to provide room catering. Barber, hairdressing and cosmetic studios, as well as solariums, also fall outside of the scope of the Order – the authorities explained that these facilities naturally apply strict sanitary measures, as it is common practice to make an appointment in advance, there is no crowding of people, and all instruments are disinfected. Many other public premises remain unaffected by the measures because they are important or critical to the economic and social life and its normal functioning – such as out-of-mall stores, pharmacies, drugstores, opticians, cosmetic products manufacturing, storage and trading premises, railways stations, airports, ports, bus stations, metro stations, medical establishments and public transport. Similar approach was adopted at the very beginning of the state of emergency regarding the activities of banks, insurance offices, grocery stores and pharmacies.
On March 17, 2020, the Minister of Health issued a new Order No. РД-01-131 / 17.03.2020, supplementing the first Order dated March 13, 2020. In the new order, the Minister stated that "... no more than two seniors are allowed to visit and gather in open and closed public places."
Although the purpose of the new Order of 17.03.2020 was to reduce the risk of contamination for the most vulnerable age groups of the population, the imprecise wording raised a number of questions and as a result another Order was issued (РД-01-139 / 19.03.2020) amending both preceding aforementioned orders. The new Order introduced a new item 1a, which provides that “... all persons, who own or operate public premises or other facilities that provide services to citizens, who are not prohibited from carrying out activities under item 1, [are obliged] to organize their activities in such a manner, so as to prevent the gathering of more than two persons over the age of 60 in the premises where the respective services are provided, and the adjacent outdoor areas, all the while indicating the need to keep a distance of at least 1-1.5 meters between individuals.” We believe that this provisional additional measure should be applied in conjunction with the criteria described above in assessing whether the relevant premises of public significance should function and receive visitors and clients.
On March 20, 2020, the MPs adopted the Emergency Measures Act and allowed the Minister of Health to introduce further restrictions against the spread of the coronavirus infection. The specific provisions on which premises can operate were eliminated from the draft of the law. Thus, the MPs left this assessment to the discretion of the Minister of Health.
This newsletter provides general information regarding the administration's actions during the Covid-19 pandemic, which is not exhaustive and represents an interpretation of the legislative acts cited in the newsletter and the practice of the administrative bodies by the Litigation and Dispute Resolution Team at Penkov, Markov & Partners Law Firm. The material is not intended to provide interpretation of, and answer to, the question of the violation of any constitutional rights of citizens by the administration, as well as the nature of the legal delegation for normative administrative acts to the Minister of Health.
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