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Experts Call for Use of Face Masks as Hungary Nears Fourth Covid Wave

Hungary Today 2021.08.23.

As the number of coronavirus cases in Hungary is on the rise, as in neighboring countries, more and more experts are warning that it is time again to start wearing face masks.

In Hungary, the government lifted the mandatory mask mandate in early July, among other restrictive measures, after the number of people vaccinated reached 5.5 million.

Although the epidemiological figures remained relatively favorable in the country during the summer, with the appearance of the delta variant and the approach of autumn, the number of Covid cases has started to rise in the last few weeks, in accordance with international experience.

This is why the Hungarian Medical Chamber (MOK) released a new statement warning everyone to be more careful.

Medical Chamber: mask mandate should be reintroduced

In the latest statement MOK claims that with the improvement of the epidemiological situation, the relaxation of the strict rules was perceived by a significant part of the Hungarian public that everything can go back to normal.

However, the MOK warns that the spread of the virus has flared up again in neighboring countries, and international examples show that countries with a similar vaccination rate as Hungary are also experiencing a rapid rise.

According to the Chamber, prevention is essential, as international experience shows that even those who have been vaccinated are not completely safe. Although vaccination greatly reduces the risk of serious complications, it only slows the spread of the virus, so unvaccinated people remain at risk, MOK notes.

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The Medical Chamber, therefore, urges the public to remain vigilant and to take precautions: to keep distance, to wear masks in closed spaces, and follow the rules for handwashing and hand disinfection.

The MOK stresses the importance of vaccination, recommends the widest possible use of the immunity cards, and more effective contact tracing.

The Chamber also asks decision-makers to use all effective means to encourage Hungarians to get vaccinated before the onset of the fourth wave: setting up mobile vaccination points at public events, bringing vaccination close to people living in less favored locations.

The President of the Hungarian Medical Chamber also called for the mandatory use of masks in a wider range of places. Gyula Kincses believes that a mask mandate should be reinstated on public transport, in shops, and in places where vaccinated and unvaccinated people can be in close contact. He believes that immunity cards should again be required for many services.

Virologist Rusvai: Use of face mask ‘advisable’

Virologist Miklós Rusvai also highlighted the importance of wearing face masks.

In outdoor spaces where the use of masks was previously required, and generally in places where we’re relatively close to people whose state of immunity we do not know, it’s definitely advisable to use masks,” Miklós Rusvai told RTL Klub News.

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The virologist says it is particularly important for people in high-risk groups, the unvaccinated, and the elderly to wear masks.

Rusvai says that people abroad should also use a mask and when they come home, they should limit their movements for 5-7 days and wear masks.

Many people are returning home from holiday (…), while in all the neighboring countries the infection rate is much higher than here and growing much faster,” Rusvai added.

Orbán’s advisor: masks less effective against delta variant

Recently, however, cardiologist Béla Merkely, who is a member of Viktor Orbán’s epidemiological team of experts, expressed a somewhat contradictory opinion to that of the Medical Chamber and Miklós Rusvai. According to the rector of Semmelweis University, face masks are less effective against the delta variant of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán downplayed the importance of mask-wearing. According to him, “experience showed that the effectiveness of mask-wearing is minor.” He urged people to get vaccinated as the effectiveness of the vaccine was proving to be overwhelmingly high. The vaccine is the only solution to the virus, Orbán said, adding that wearing face masks and distancing are not enough.

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It is not yet known whether the government plans to make the use of masks compulsory once again. During last Saturday’s press conference, Prime Minister Gergely Gulyás said that the fourth wave would definitely arrive in Hungary, just as it had in Western Europe.

Therefore, Gulyás urged everyone to get vaccinated. At the same time, he said that no lockdown or workplace restrictions were being planned and schools would also start as usual in September.

Featured photo by Attila Balázs/MTI 

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