Hungary had seen the blackest days of the pandemic in the first half of April. After the country unfortunately became the world leader in fatalities in proportion to the population (based on the seven-day rolling average) in the middle of March, in April, Hungary also became the country hit the hardest since the beginning of the pandemic, registering the most deaths in proportion to its population. Fortunately, coronavirus statistics showed an improving trend later in the month. The government was quick to ease the restrictions throughout April, as they decided to tie the lifting of restrictions to the number of people vaccinated with a first jab. Analysis.
In early April, all coronavirus statistics showed tragically bad numbers as Hungary potentially reached the peak of the third wave. The third wave was particularly dangerous as a new variant of the virus entered the country from the United Kingdom months before, which happened to be more contagious and had more severe effects on the body. Furthermore, it was reported that younger people are more likely to catch the virus and even be hospitalized.
Hungary reached its all time high number of deaths in a single day on April 7th, as 311 people lost their lives due to the virus. At the peak of the third wave the healthcare system was extremely overwhelmed, more and more people were hospitalized and ended up on ventilators. Hungary showed the worst numbers in the whole world in terms of daily deaths, as the numbers fluctuated between 26.19 and 19.7/million people. Meanwhile, the number of deaths started to decrease slightly by the end of the month – on April 1st, 258 deaths were registered, by April 30th “only” 182. Relative to its population, Hungary still remains in a bad position when it comes to coronavirus deaths.
Hospital numbers also showed a similar trend. While at the beginning of April around twelve thousand people were in hospitals due to Covid-19, this number halved by the end of the month. The number of people on ventilators also reached its peak in early April as nearly 1,500 people required ventilators to stay alive, a number well above the country’s capacity estimated a few months prior.
A positive trend can be wintessed regarding the new infections registered in the country. In the past four weeks, in terms of daily new cases as well, coronavirus stats showed extremely worrying numbers at the beginning of the month, as 9,288 positive cases were registered on April 1st. However, in the upcoming weeks, daily new cases have continuously declined, as by April 30th only 2,365 cases were registered in Hungary. In terms of the active cases in the country, the numbers grew from around 230,000 to 272,000 until mid-April, however, it subsequently plateaued and started to decrease until the end of the month, and currently around 230,000.
Not only did the number of new cases decrease in the second half of the month, but another important indicator, the ratio of positive tests, also showed a good tendency. According to the World Health Organization, if the positive test ratio is below 5 percent the epidemic is under control, with an upper limit of 12 percent. At the beginning of April, around 24 percent of tests were positive in Hungary, whereas four weeks later, this ratio decreased to almost 10 percent.
In light of the worrying numbers many experts refuted the government’s plan to start the gradual reopening of the country at the beginning of April. The government however, decided to go on with the lifting of restrictions as the number of first-dose vaccinations improved significantly. On March 5tb, PM Viktor Orbán announced strict measures throughout the country as the third wave hit in a very devastating way, however, exactly one month later, by April 6th nearly 2.5 million people received the first dose of the vaccine. The government argued that since all endangered age groups have been inoculated with the first dose, Hungary can start its gradual reopening. Coincidentally, in Hungary the first day of the gradual reopening was also the deadliest day in the history of the pandemic.
Vaccination progressing very well
It is by no means undeniable that Hungary is one of the best countries, even globally, in terms of vaccinations. There are currently five different vaccines in use in the country – Pfizer/BioNtech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Sputnik V, and Sinopharm – and vaccinations showed a continuous improving trend throughout April. No wonder the government’s ambitious plan to reopen the country has risen to the top of the agenda. While on April 1st, 22 percent of the whole population received their first dose of the vaccine, this number escalated to almost 42 percent by the end of the month.
Numbers of people who received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Source: Our World in Data
On April 14th, the country reached three million vaccinations, so the reopening could continue. However, daily cases and especially daily deaths remained extremely high and therefore, the plan of reopening received much criticism. On April 18th the total deaths in the country surpassed 25,000 people. To put the dramatic increase into context, at the beginning of the month, this number was around 21,000. Hungary closed the month with almost 28,000 fatalities, counting from the first wave.
On April 24th, the government announced that terraces may reopen and outdoor hospitality services can start working again, as the country reached a new milestone in the vaccination campaign, 3.5 million jabs. However, experts continuosly warned that a premature reopening could backfire later on. Especially considering that after the chaotic scenes on the day of terraces reopening as masses raided Budapest’s city center, cases might be going up again in the next few weeks.
In addition, another significant milestone was reached most recently as the vaccination rate hit four million on April 30th. From Saturday onwards, catering businesses opened their indoor areas, hotels, theaters, cinemas, libraries, gyms, fitness centers, swimming pools, sports arenas, and several other venues are now available to those who have vaccination certificates.
All in all, the events of April leaves most of the population with ambiguous feelings. On the one hand, as nearly half of the adult population has already received their first dose of the vaccines, the hope for achieving the still elusive herd immunity certainly becomes an attainable goal in the next few months. On the other hand, as Hungary remained worst in terms of deaths in the whole world throughout the month, an early opening could potentially backfire and summon a fourth wave in the country.
Featured photo by Attila Balázs/MTI