Every coronavirus statistic in Hungary showed a significant improvement in January, indicating that the epidemic is plateauing in the country. As Europe is faced with the danger of a third covid wave, however, the Orbán government is reluctant to ease the strict lockdown rules until the country’s most vulnerable groups are vaccinated. But the process is hindered by several factors. Meanwhile, the main question remains: how long the already rebelling catering businesses can endure the restrictions that are virtually a death sentence to their businesses?
In the past four weeks, all of Hungary’s covid stats showed improving trends. The number of daily registered coronavirus infections has halved in the last month, with a similarly reassuring decrease in the number of active cases (from 158,548 to 92,094). The death toll showed perhaps an even more important change; a steady decline with less than half as many deaths on the last day of January as at the very beginning of the month.
Similarly, the number of hospitalized patients gradually decreased by more than two thousand in the past month (from 5,648 to 3,562), with the number of patients on ventilators also showing a decline.
January is also the first month in which the positive coronavirus test ratio dropped from above WHO’s absolute upper limit of 12% to around 8%. Although 2,857 deaths in the past month due to the virus is still a high number, the stabilizing statistics clearly show that the epidemic is plateauing in Hungary.
Orbán gov’t: easing lockdown rules only after mass vaccination
Based solely on the January coronavirus statistics, many in Hungary think it is time to ease the restrictions introduced last November. As the third wave of the virus is banging down on the EU’s door partly due to the Covid variant found in the UK, the Orbán government is reluctant to ease any of the lockdown rules.
The Prime Minister was explicit about the issue through and through in the past weeks: discussion of lifting restrictions can only take place after priority groups are inoculated. “It all depends on how many vaccines can be acquired,” he said.
The rollout of vaccines thwarted
Unfortunately, vaccination in Hungary is being hindered by many factors.
Even though the campaign to inoculate healthcare workers against the coronavirus has concluded, and vaccination of residents and staff of social care facilities is almost done as well, the number of those already immunized in Hungary is still relatively low. So far, 243,036 people have received their first injection, and only 68,526 have been fully inoculated.
The Orbán government was quick to point its fingers at the EU claiming that the European Commission’s “scandalously slow vaccine purchase procedures,” are to blame.
As Western vaccine providers sent far fewer vaccines due to a bottleneck in production capacity, Hungary turned to the East. The Russian Sputnik V had received a preliminary license from Hungarian authorities, while they still await certification from the European Medical Agency (EMA). Meanwhile, Hungary announced that it is purchasing two million doses of the vaccine. Most surprisingly the government decided to also strike a deal with China’s Sinopharm to buy its coronavirus vaccine.
Although most experts agree that the Chinese vaccine is also effective, Hungarians are extremely reluctant to use it, which can further slow down the vaccination campaign.
Service sector on the verge of death
Meanwhile, as a cry for help, many catering businesses in Hungary have declared that they will be open for business protesting coronavirus restrictions.
Even the government seemed to be understanding towards their efforts to recover from the difficult situation. Still, Miklós Kásler, Minister of Human resources, emphasized that pandemic measures will stay in place until 50 percent or more of the population has been vaccinated.
The situation is clearly untenable, however, the solution is not yet known.
Featured photo illustration by Zoltán Balogh/MTI