At the height of the third wave of the coronavirus, the government has announced that the gradual easing of restrictions in Hungary could only begin once at least 2.5 million people are inoculated, and one of the first steps will be the reopening of schools, expectedly around the middle of April. A promise was also made to prioritize teachers so they could be vaccinated before schools and kindergartens reopen their doors. This is a huge turnaround, as the Orbán government previously rejected all proposals to prioritize teachers in the vaccination campaign, sticking to their stance that they would be vaccinated according to their age and health conditions. Although it is a welcome decision, many details are still unclear.
Coming only a day after the announcement that Hungary will begin vaccinating its critical infrastructure workers, the prime minister’s chief of staff on Thursday said that schools and kindergartens in Hungary could open on April 19th the latest, possibly on April 12th.
Teachers will be inoculated before the reopening, Gergely Gulyás said.
Reopening is conditional on the number of those vaccinated reaching 2.5 million nationwide, he told a regular press conference, and called on teachers to register for receiving the vaccine.
The government’s decision is particularly surprising in light of the stance it took in the past weeks. Human Resources Minister Miklós Kásler for example, stated in Parliament on March 16th that teachers would not be prioritized in Hungary’s vaccination plan despite the strong demand from teacher organizations and the example of most EU countries.
The government decision is a welcome one as in case of a reopening, teachers would be among those most endangered to get infected by the coronavirus. According to the Trade Union of Teachers (PSZ), so far already sixty of them have lost their lives to the virus in Hungary.
Several details unknown
However, the new announcement does not clarify a lot of details. First of all, it is unclear why the set number of 2.5 million inoculations marks the milestone for reopening the schools, as the elderly are prioritized in Hungary’s vaccination plan and most of the teachers and obviously children are not in that age group. In other words: most of those inoculated have nothing to do with public education.
Also, we don’t yet know whether any prioritization applies to teachers, since Gergely Gulyás, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office urged them to register for inoculation. Meanwhile, in the case of other prioritized professions, they did not have to- instead, the government offered them the vaccine which they could decide to accept or not. If teachers really need to register, then it is unclear how the state will know their profession since the registration process does not list peoples’ professions.
It is also unclear if the supposed prioritization applies to all education workers (for example, the technical staff, or those working in school administration) or only to teachers. Another point of concern: even if all teachers get the first jab by the beginning of April, they could only get the second a month later and it would take them two or three weeks after the second jab to develop immunity, so sometime in May, while the schools will supposedly open in the middle of April.
Featured photo illustration by Zoltán Balogh/MTI