Hungary has been through its toughest month so far since the coronavirus pandemic appeared in the country. Despite some restrictions introduced early last month, it broke all existing negative records and became the one with the worst fatality rate on the globe.
After the fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus first identified in the United Kingdom appeared in Hungary at the end of February, it began to spread at a devastating pace.
By the beginning of March, the situation became absolutely untenable, and the government decided to reintroduce strict lockdown measures, closing non-essential shops and catering businesses, on top of the overnight curfew in place since last November.
Looking at the March figures, however, it becomes immediately clear that they have not achieved the hoped-for results, as last month Hungary set new negative coronavirus-related records one after the other, ultimately becoming the country with one of the worst mortality rates in the world.
Depressing figures in March
Last month, daily new cases began steadily rising, setting a new record on March 26th with 11,265 new infections on that day alone, a number almost three times of what was registered on the first day of the month. Since mid-March, Hungary is having the worst figures regarding the number of new infections per capita in Europe.
After a decline in February, the number of active infections also skyrocketed, more than doubling from 94,911 to 224,761.
Unfortunately, despite the drastic increase in the spread of the virus, the mortality rate has reached even more staggering proportions. So much so that Hungary is having currently the worst death rate in the world (in proportion to the population) and has become the country with the second-worst coronavirus mortality rate in the world after the Czech Republic if we look at it from the beginning of the pandemic.
A telling example of the shocking acceleration rate of daily deaths is that Hungary surpassed 10,000 coronavirus-related fatalities in early January and it took about two months to surpass the 15,000 mark. However, in the third wave, the rate of fatalities has doubled and it took less than a month for the death toll to surpass 20,000 on March 29th.
Meanwhile, daily new deaths in Hungary reached a new record on the last day of March with 302 fatalities.
Hospital numbers showed a similarly frightening trend. The number of hospitalized patients more than doubled in the past month (from 5,679 to 12,346), while the number of patients on ventilators even tripled (from 537 to 1,492).
The positive coronavirus test ratio further increased in the first spring month and is still far above WHO’s absolute upper limit of 12% with a seven-day rolling average of 25%.
The only reassuring coronavirus-related statistic is the vaccination rate of Hungary’s population, which is the second highest among EU countries, after the small island nation of Malta.
More than 2 million jabs have been administered by the very end of March, inoculating more than 20% of the population.
Gov’t plans reopening despite surge in numbers
Despite the spiking numbers, in March the government announced its plans to ease the imposed measures, and start reopening the country. According to a recently published decree, new measures will take effect once 2.5 million people have received at least the first dose of a vaccine. Non-essential shops will be allowed to reopen with some restrictions, while the overnight curfew will also be shortened by a few hours.
Given Hungary’s dire Covid situation, it seems unclear why the government would risk reopening the country while the set goal of 2.5 million vaccinated people falls far short of the number required to reach herd immunity.
Of course, the sole purpose of the plan could be simply to buy more time and calm the growing number of Hungarians fed up with the strict lockdown measures, including entrepreneurs and those in the food industry who have for months been struggling to get by.
Featured photo illustration by Zoltán Balogh/MTI