While Hungary’s epidemic statistics have broken records in recent days, the first steps to reopen the country began on Wednesday. Most experts, meanwhile, continue to warn the government, cautioning them that it’s not yet time to ease restrictions.
Doctors’ Chamber: ‘Reopening too soon’
On Wednesday, the board of the Hungarian Medical Chamber (MOK) said a reopening is starting too soon in the country, insisting that the epidemiological and health situation does not yet mandate an easing of pandemic rules.
“We believe reopening has started too soon. We maintain the view that an improvement in the epidemic data and a reduction in case load on the healthcare system should be the preconditions for reopening rather than the current ratio of vaccinations,” MOK’s board stated.
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The board noted that Hungary reported a record high number of Covid-19 related deaths for Tuesday, an increasing number of Covid patients in hospital, and a stagnating high number of people needing ventilator support.
Data suggests that the third wave is just peaking. Vaccination ensures a reassuring high degree of protection against the virus only after the seventh day following the second shot.”
“In any earlier phase, after receiving the first shot, protection is only partial, which means that transmission is still possible while the recipient develops a false sense of security,” the board said.
The board said it supported extending the opening hours of shops and restricting the number of customers but consider the planned reopening of schools as a move that comes “too early.”
In addition to MOK, many experts have also warned in the past days that in light of the frighteningly high number of deaths and similarly poor hospital numbers, Hungary is not yet ready to reopen.
Physician Balkányi: No expert supports reopening
“None of the experts support the current reopening, instead we should be doing something completely different,” László Balkányi, former expert of the ECDC told broadcaster ATV.
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“We would be much better off closing [the country] for two weeks, as that would break the infection chains,” he added. According to Balkányi, experts should consult and reach a consensus, which plan should then be implemented by the government.
Virologist Rusvai: Gov’t plan ‘risky’
Miklós Rusvai also called the government’s plan for reopening after 2.5 million people have received at least their first jab, ‘risky.’ In an interview with ATV, the virologist said he’d wait longer and would rather adjust the start of the easing of restrictions to the results of wastewater testing as well as epidemic data. If schools reopen as planned on April 19th, it will have an impact reflected in early May’s epidemic figures, he added.
In another interview with InfoRádió, he explained that he thinks a partial reopening could only start once the five-day rolling average of fatalities, hospitalized patients, and those on ventilators are halved.
A full reopening of the country would only be safe if the pandemic fell back to the level of last September from which we are still “extremely far away,” he added.
Biostatistician Ferenci: easing restrictions will let pandemic loose
Biostatistician Tamás Ferenci also talked about the flaws of the strategy where reopening starts with a relatively low inoculation rate right after the vaccination of the most vulnerable groups.
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Ferenci said as the large majority of fatalities come from a fairly well-defined population group, it might seem an obvious strategy to vaccinate them and once they are protected let go of the restrictions for the pandemic, for there are a lot fewer people among the general population with a serious or fatal condition.
However, according to the expert, this approach is problematic on more than one level. Vaccination of the elderly slows the pandemic surprisingly little, due to their relatively low number of contacts.
Also, it’s difficult to ensure that everyone in the high-risk groups gets vaccinated. Even vaccination cannot provide complete protection, and if many people are at risk of getting infected at the same time, many already vaccinated people can also catch the virus. Furthermore, less vulnerable populations also have a given mortality rate; it may be very low, but multiplied by millions of cases, it can easily get devastating.
Chief Infectologist Szlávik: it’s too early
János Szlávik, senior infectologist of the South-Pest Central Hospital, also found the government’s first goal of inoculating 2.5 million people with most of the elderly lacking.
“Large concessions can’t be given after the vaccination of a quarter of the population. “With that many, it is not yet possible to go back to our normal lives,” he told Inforádió.
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The expert also said although the first vaccination triggers an immune response and antibody production starts in two to three weeks- it can even reach levels that provide protection- but it is the second dose that strengthens the immune response.
Gov’t: new measures can hardly be considered ‘easing’
During his regular press conference on Thursday, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff emphasized that although the first step of the reopening was tied to 2.5 million vaccinated people, the new measures can hardly be considered easing as there has regularly been at least as much easing as tightening among the measures. Gulyás said that the new measures do not substantially increase the risk of infection.
Referring to the vaccines, Gulyás claimed that protection against the virus begins to develop even after the first dose and continues to increase, although it only becomes complete with the second jab, depending on the effectiveness of the vaccine. Whoever gets the first dose is less likely to get infected and even less likely to become seriously ill.
He also revealed that the government is planning to decide on new reopening measures 5-6 days after 3 million people have received their first shot.
Featured photo illustration by Zoltán Balogh/MTI