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Hungary to Say Goodbye to Masks At 5.5 Million Vaccinations – Is It Too Early?

Tamás Vaski 2021.06.25.

Once Hungary reaches 5.5 million vaccinations, masks will no longer be mandatory anywhere other than in healthcare institutions. The decision, announced by Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office Gergely Gulyás during the government’s press briefing on Thursday, has sparked critical responses from Hungarian health professionals. Despite its stagnating inoculation rate, Hungary is already close to reaching the 5.5 mark. Many concerns involve the rise of the much more infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus, which has led to sudden outbreaks elsewhere in the world.

5,454,866 vaccinations have already been registered in Hungary, among them, 4,728,655 people have received both jabs. If at least 45,134 of the remaining 726,211 people receive their second vaccination, masks will practically become a thing of the past.

Hungary to Lift Mask Mandate When 5.5 Million Inoculated
Hungary to Lift Mask Mandate When 5.5 Million Inoculated

People will be allowed to go to hotels, restaurants, baths and water parks without an immunity certificate.Continue reading

As pleasant as it sounds not to be required to wear a mask, there are some serious concerns with the decision, which comes at a time when well-vaccinated countries like the United Kingdom and Israel are recording alarming outbreaks of the coronavirus.

5.5 Is Just Around the Corner but 7 Seems Unlikely

Not too long ago, Hungary was a world leader in its rate of vaccination, but that title is quickly slipping away, as the country slows to a much more average rate of inoculations.

A graph by 24.hu visualizes the deterioration, showing that while Hungary’s vaccination curve is quickly leveling out, countries which were previously well behind Hungary’s lead, such as Denmark, Italy, France, the Netherlands, and Austria, are expected to surpass it within the next two weeks.

Herd Immunity Doubtful - Hungary's Vaccinations Freeze Up
Herd Immunity Doubtful - Hungary's Vaccinations Freeze Up

The government estimated that Hungary would reach six million vaccinations by mid-May, and seven million by the third week of May.Continue reading

There are plenty of vaccines which can be administered within days, but the remainder of the adult population does not seem to be in a hurry to accept them.

Delta Variant Breaks Out in Well-Vaccinated Countries

10 days after declaring that masks are no longer mandatory, Israel reintroduced its mask requirement for indoor areas. Despite being the fourth most vaccinated country in the world per 1,000,000 people, the country’s coronavirus cases had quadrupled. The sudden outbreak prompted representatives to urge parents to vaccinate their kids aged between 12 and 15.

Indian Variant Identified in Hungary
Indian Variant Identified in Hungary

Neither patient had travelled abroad prior to the infection, and so the source is yet to be determined, the chief medical officer said.Continue reading

The United Kingdom is in a similar situation. It is also a world leader in vaccinations, placing eighth on the New York Times’ list with 75 million vaccinations in its population of 66 million people.

Still, it reported 16,703 new Covid cases on Thursday, its highest total since February. With a 46 percent increase in cases over the last week, 95 percent of all sequenced cases in England are because of the Delta variant.

Angela Merkel Concerned About Hungary's Full-House Football Matches
Angela Merkel Concerned About Hungary's Full-House Football Matches

The German chancellor emphasized that we cannot pretend the pandemic is over, bringing up Lisbon's Covid breakout as an example.Continue reading

This new variant, which was first identified in India, is 60 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant, which is 50 percent more transmissible than the original Wuhan strain.

Head PMO: The Race Is Over, Those Who Are Vaccinated Are Safe

Gergely Gulyás stated that according to Hungary’s healthcare institutions and the vast majority of virologists, currently available vaccines are effective against the Delta variant of the coronavirus. Either the vaccinated individual does not even get sick or their affliction will not be as severe or tragic. This is why, he explained, anyone who gets vaccinated is safe,  while “those who do not get vaccinated are not safe.”

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Government Plans to Organise August 20 Celebrations

As things stand, it looks like it will be safe to hold the August 20 celebrations and the fireworks display, PMO Head Gulyás said.Continue reading

Regarding the slowing rate of Hungary’s vaccinations, Gulyás said the “vaccination race” is over, it ended when the supply of vaccines in Hungary surpassed the demand. “There is no greater opportunity for this anywhere else in the world.”

The minister brought up that it would be nice if the roughly eight million adults in Hungary got vaccinated. The government is doing everything it can, he said, but as the Swiss law goes, “All individuals shall take responsibility for themselves.”

To those who choose not to get vaccinated, he said that “they will most likely get sick, and if they do get sick they could face tragic consequences.”

Third Wave Practically Over in Hungary: What About a Fourth?
Third Wave Practically Over in Hungary: What About a Fourth?

Most of Hungary's healthcare professionals view the summer as an opportunity to build up immunity before Covid returns in the Fall.Continue reading

Adding to the lifting of restrictions, the Minister stated that Hungarian immunity certificates will no longer be required to enter hotels, restaurants, bathhouses, or beaches. Certificates will still be required at large group events, such as sporting events, concerts, festivals, and clubs.

Hungarian Healthcare Professionals Give Warnings

Former chief medical officer Ferenc Falus told Népszava that it does not matter that the virus has weakened in Hungary, the danger still exists. In the United Kingdom, the Alpha variant, more popularly known as the UK variant, was quickly replaced by the Delta or Indian variant.

Health Professionals: All of Hungary's Vaccines Are Effective!
Health Professionals: All of Hungary's Vaccines Are Effective!

Professors, virologists, and virus researchers around Hungary continue to emphasize it; all vaccines authorized in Hungary are effective. Chief infectologist of the South Pest Hospital Centre, virologist János Szlávik sat down with Hungary Today at the beginning of the year to discuss vaccination and the race against the coronavirus. Chief Infectologist: Herd Immunity Needed Szlávik […]Continue reading

Falus stated that this variant is much quicker, and that it is more likely to cause more severe symptoms in children than its predecessors.

Right now it would be most important for us to avoid the infection of children. And since the Indian variant’s symptoms are at first the same as a common cold rather than the loss of taste or smell, it carries the danger of making the infected individual doubt whether they are infected or not. This is why tests and contact tracing should be completed in even greater numbers to avoid the formation of another wave.”

The former chief medical officer added that those who are vaccinated have a certain level of immunity to the new virus. Still, he believes that among the 500 thousand primarily elderly people vaccinated with Sinopharm, more than 20-30 percent did not develop an immune response.

Virologist and Professor Miklós Rusvai told Portfolio that that there are also risks to the government removing the requirement to present immunity certificates in restaurants and hotels.

Experts Slam Gov't for Opting Out of Next Phase of EU Vaccine Procurement
Experts Slam Gov't for Opting Out of Next Phase of EU Vaccine Procurement

Hungary is the only European Union country that has decided to not take part in the next phase of vaccine procurement organized by the EU.Continue reading

While the warm summer weather means the virus has more difficulty spreading, he stated, large events such as concerts, full-house football matches, and the presence of the Delta variant must be factored as dangerous.

If we take all these into consideration, the removal of such protocols, or the exemption from requiring immunity certificates hides risks, but it will not create a newer large-scale virus wave.”

Featured photo illustration by Zsolt Czeglédi/MTI