Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced on Tuesday that Hungary has reached its goal for the first stage of the gradual reopening, which began on Wednesday. Comparing the coronavirus-related statistics at the time the government decided to introduce strict lockdown measures to curb the pandemic in March with the ones on the first day of the start of the gradual reopening, one must wonder: is the country ready for this?
Third-wave devastates Hungary
The third wave of the coronavirus pandemic hit Hungary with a crushing impact at the end of February. By the beginning of March, the virus started spreading faster and faster with a reproduction rate among the highest in Europe.
As the situation started spiraling out of control, the government announced on March 4th to reintroduce strict lockdown measures in an effort to tackle the third wave of coronavirus infections. Hungary decided to close non-essential shops and restaurants, on top of the overnight curfew in place since last November. The new rules took effect on March 8th.
In the second half of the month, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán already started talking about his plan to ease the imposed restrictions and start reopening the country. The new, more lenient measures were set to take effect once 2.5 million people received at least the first dose of a vaccine, a goal that was reached on Tuesday. According to Viktor Orbán’s interview with state media last Wednesday, the government drew the line here, because based on previous estimates all registered people over the age of 65 (i.e. those most endangered) will be vaccinated in Hungary by this time.
As a result, from Wednesday on, non-essential shops and services are allowed to reopen with some restrictions, while the overnight curfew was also shortened by a few hours.
Given the current coronavirus-related figures in Hungary, the move seems rather risky. Especially if we compare them with the ones at the time the government announced its plans to initiate a lockdown.
Most relevant figures doubled
The coronavirus numbers were already shocking in early March but most of them have since doubled.
According to official statistics, the number of daily coronavirus-related deaths was 311 on Wednesday alone, more than twice as many as it was on March 4th (152). If we take a look at the seven day rolling average of the fatalities we see the same increase (from 115 to 239).
Unfortunately, the other relevant figures show a similar trend. The number of active infections went from 102,566 to 252,115 which means it is two and a half times higher than it was just over a month ago. Meanwhile, Hungarian hospitals are caring for 12,202 patients, twice as many as before (6,554), while those in need of respiratory assistance also doubled (from 639 to 1,407).
The only figure that is more favorable than it was in early March is the number of new cases (1,933), but given the record low number of tests in recent days (during the four-day Easter holiday) it is hardly an indication of the decreasing number of infections.
Although the statistics seem rather sinister, hopefully, the virus will soon plateau in Hungary and despite the more permissive rules, instead of a fourth wave the pandemic will show a rapid decline in the coming weeks.
Featured photo illustration by Márton Mónus/MTI