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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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