Shortly after the fourth Covid-19 wave ended in Hungary, the appearance of the Omicron variant reignited the virus. The new mutant began spreading in the country at an unprecedented rate after its emergence in December. Meanwhile, reports about the new variant causing milder symptoms seemingly hold true, as January’s hospital and death figures have not risen anywhere near as much as the daily new infection statistics would suggest.
Skyrocketing case numbers, insufficient testing
As the newly registered number of cases is perhaps the most important indicator of how fast the coronavirus is spreading, looking at the relevant January figures, we can see that the epidemic has been rapidly surging in Hungary. This is mainly due to the highly-infectious omicron variant, which first appeared in Hungary in December and started spreading faster than any previous versions of the virus.
By early January it became apparent that soon after the fourth Covid wave peaked in the country, the fifth one has already begun as well.
So much so that as days went by, the number of new infections repeatedly kept breaking the records set by the previous days. There was even a day at the end of the month when, for the first time in Hungary, more than 20,000 (20,174) new cases were registered within only 24 hours. (During the previous waves, the highest number of recorded daily new infections was 12,637 at the end of November).
Unfortunately, tracking the daily infection figures was made extremely difficult, when authorities almost six months ago decided to simply stop publishing data on the epidemic on the weekends, and only report the Friday, Saturday, Sunday figures to the public all at once on Monday. Given the inconsistent release of data, it is therefore, better to look at the seven-day moving average, which gives a closer indication of the actual trends.
At the beginning of last month, the moving average of new daily cases stood at 2,423; by the end of January, however, this number increased to 16,003, almost seven times the previous figure.
This is well above the moving average of cases seen in earlier periods of the coronavirus epidemic, with the record seen in the fourth wave being “only” 10,146 daily new infections.
The proportion of positive tests has also increased to staggering levels. At the end of January, there was even a day when 76.5 percent of tests came back positive. The situation is no better if we look at the moving average of the proportion of positive tests, as we can see that the indicator has slowly climbed from 21.15% at the beginning of January to 47.29% at the end of the month.
All of these values are far above the WHO-recommended 5% rates of positivity in tests, and indicate an insufficient testing capacity, rendering Hungary unable to get an accurate picture of the epidemic situation.
Slightly growing hospital numbers, with improving mortality data
The number of hospitalized and ventilated patients on the other hand shows a more encouraging picture. Both figures were decreasing at a reassuring pace until the second half of last month. After which, however, the number of hospital admissions started growing again, although nowhere near as rapidly as the number of daily new cases would suggest.
At the beginning of January, 3,313 people were in need of hospital care, while 318 were on ventilators. By the end of the month 3,903 patients were hospitalized with Covid, while 150 of them were on ventilators. Fortunately, both figures are below those recorded in the same period last year (during the second wave).
Because of the aforementioned shortcomings in the Hungarian data reporting, it is also the moving average of the January Covid-19 mortality figures that are worth considering. Apart from minor fluctuations, the number of daily deaths showed a slight downward trend in the previous month. The seven-day moving average at the beginning of January was 99, while on the last day of the month it stood at 65. Similar to the hospital statistics, the number of daily Covid-19 fatalities also remained slightly below those recorded last January.
The highest number of deaths in the previous month occurred on January 7th, when 101 people lost their lives to the coronavirus. This is a far cry from the record set in April last year, when 311 people died in a single day.
Hungary’s vaccination rate puts country in EU’s bottom third
The developments of the vaccination rate in Hungary followed a similar path to the previous months in January. Similar to most European countries, Hungary’s vaccination drive had hit a wall months ago with only a 64.5%. rate of at least one vaccine dose, causing it to fall back to the bottom third in the EU. Meanwhile, it has also increasingly lost its lead regarding booster shots. According to the ECDC, Hungary ranks 17th in terms of booster shots among the bloc’s countries.
Featured photo illustration by Zoltán Balogh/MTI