With the arrival of the nice spring weather, the weekend brought out crowds all over Hungary, carelessly enjoying themselves outdoors, often in groups, despite the devastating epidemic situation and severe restrictions in place in the country.
It was particularly evident in Budapest as thousands of people flooded public spaces, parks, and other green areas, many without masks.
People were not deterred by the fact that the coronavirus epidemic was rapidly spreading in Hungary, infecting on average ten thousand people a day, while in the last 24 hours alone, 189 people had died due to the virus.
The situation is severe in several respects: Hungary is still among the countries most severely affected by the third Covid-19 wave, and has one of the highest daily coronavirus-related death rates in the world. Meanwhile, hospitals are full, and the healthcare system is at its limit.
In reaction to the lack of discipline recently shown, several experts and doctors also spoke up in the past days, urging everyone to be careful, reminding people there is still great danger ahead of us, despite the arrival of good weather.
János Szlávik, chief infectologist of the South Pest Central Hospital, stressed on Saturday that Hungary right now is in “the most severe days” of the third wave of the pandemic, with record caseloads and a high number of hospitalized Covid patients.
Gábor Zacher, chief physician of the Hatvan hospital also warned people and shared his opinion with news site Index on the crowds of people over the weekend.
The greatest problem is that people still don’t have concrete information about this disease. They don’t see the huge struggle going on in the hospitals. And this would not be necessary because of sensationalism, but simply for people to see what the consequence of the coronavirus disease might be, how patients fight and how we fight for their lives.”
As a result of the grave situation, it is not surprising that the president of the Medical Chamber already called for a full lockdown in Hungary last Tuesday, suggesting that everything but grocery stores and pharmacies should be closed.
According to Medical Chamber president Gyula Kincses, a short but strict lockdown is much more effective than one that is more lenient and drawn out.
Kincses pointed out that “more people die in two days now than the total number of people who died in last Spring’s wave,” adding that besides mass vaccination, precaution is of high importance for a May-June reopening.
Having seen the reports, on Monday the president of the Medical Chamber commented on Facebook that “The lesson of the weekend is that people want to live, not survive.”
Following the advice of virologists and the Hungarian Medical Chamber, interior minister Sándor Pintér had been urging stricter epidemic measures for weeks, but Prime Minister Viktor Orbán decided there was no need for them, leftist daily Népszava learned from several sources.
According to the paper, Pintér even wanted to impose curfew restrictions as early as the long weekend of March 15th. It is also one of the reasons why he asked Mayor Gergely Karácsony not to open the Chain Bridge and the Danube embankment on the Pest side to pedestrians, a request the capital’s leadership honored.
Népszava also notes that Pintér reportedly asked the same from Budapest last week as well, but this time Mayor Karácsony decided differently.
However, the weekend’s observations raise the question of whether it really is a good idea to start the gradual reopening of Hungary after only 2.5 million people have received the vaccination, a decision the government made last week.
Featured photo illustration (from 2020) by Márton Mónus/MTI