Gergely Gulyás, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, said that a decision on restrictions effective from December 11th will be made following consultations with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, but according to Gulyás, special measures can be expected for Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
At the weekly press conference of the government, Gergely Gulyás, head of the Prime Minister’s Office talked about the next steps before the government would decide next week on the “Christmas measures.” He said that it seems that in terms of the statistics of the coronavirus infection, Hungary ranks 12th among the 27 EU Member States. He added that the Hungarian data of those deceased is “significantly more favorable” than the EU average as well, mainly because there is an increase in the number of deaths in countless places.
Although both Gulyás and the Chief Medical Officer claimed in recent weeks that Hungary is performing well compared to other countries, the numbers show otherwise: the number of new patients and deaths in the country have been rising higher and higher every day over the last couple of weeks. This week, the number of new cases has been over 6,000 every day and the number of deaths is breaking newer and newer records, such as today, when 182 coronavirus patients died overnight.
As we also reported recently, November was by far the worst month for Hungary in terms of the coronavirus. A rapid rise in cases, deaths, and positive tests, along with labor deficiencies made for a somber end to autumn 2020. At the end of October, there were around 55,000 active cases in the country. By the end of November, this number doubled and reached 148,000. At first, it seemed like the growing numbers were mainly a result of increased testing; however, on average, the ratio of positive tests was higher in November than ever before. For example, on November 30th, 64% of all coronavirus tests were positive.
These results indicate that the coronavirus situation is far worse than was indicated by Gulyás, which is probably caused by the fact that the statistics used by the Hungarian government analyze the overall data from the start of the epidemic, when many other EU countries had worse situations than Hungary. However, in the second wave of the coronavirus epidemic, Hungary has seen a significant increase in new cases and fatalities. Although in terms of cases relative to population, Hungary still appears to be middle of the pack, doing better than European countries or the U.S. However, it is probably due to the fact that the number of tests carried out is still significantly lower than in other countries.
It is extremely important to point out that data from the spring cannot be taken into consideration when deciding on measures needed in December. The new restrictions – or the softening of them, as it is expected based on the government’s hints – will need to reflect the current state of the coronavirus epidemic in Hungary and not “historical” data.
So a more representative measure in this regard, instead of the data the PMO Head cited, would be deaths per million inhabitants, where Hungary is doing worse than nearly all comparable nations on a seven-day rolling basis. The country had one of the highest number of fatalities per million people in Europe on average back in November and according to experts and even politicians, Hungary is yet to reach the peak of the second wave. However, the Christmas holidays are fast approaching and Hungarians are curious whether the numbers will allow for a small ease in the restrictions and special Christmas rules.
The current measures are valid until December 11th- until then, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will consult with experts, epidemiologists, doctors, and business interest representation groups. After these discussions, the operative board coordinating Hungary’s response to the epidemic and the government will decide on further restrictive measures. However, according to Gulyás, special rules can be expected for Christmas and the New Year. He said that even if the government sticks to austerity with the new rules entering into effect after the expiration of current restrictions, more permissive special rules can still be expected for the holidays.
The minister already mentioned this at a hearing in the Parliamentary Committee on Justice on Tuesday, where he said it would be good to allow families to meet as widely as possible. Gulyás said that in his “personal opinion, there are strong arguments in favor of special rules coming into force for a good one-week period of Christmas.”
featured photo: MTI/Mohai Balázs