Covid-19 has returned with a vengeance, with a record high of 510 new cases in Hungary as of September 4th. These new numbers coincide with multiple different factors, among them the end of the tourist season and the beginning of the new school year. It seems that the second wave has finally arrived, showing how resilient this virus truly is.
For a while, especially when many other countries around the world were hit hard by the pandemic, Hungary was a relatively tranquil area. Cases never really got dangerously high, and the actions taken by the government effectively reduced the number of active infections. Mind you, Hungary may have simply been testing at a much lower rate than other countries, but even so, the numbers were very low. So, what happened?
Well, quite a few things actually. First off, the most obvious reason is that school started. The Hungarians news media has been rife with stories of schools and preschools shutting down due to either the students or teachers catching the virus. The “gólya” (intro) camps of Hungarian universities have also become smaller foci for new infections.
The second reason, and what the government has focused on the most so far, is both tourists from abroad and returning Hungarians bringing in the virus from across the borders. Whether they were Germans and Italians coming to Hungary for a cheap vacation, or Hungarians heading to Croatia to make up the hours of beach sunlight that they lost during the initial quarantine, Budapest airport has been relatively busy. Just last week, at one point there were flights from multiple Italian cities landing at the same time at Liszt Ferenc International Airport. It is quite surreal seeing tourists exchanging money while wearing masks, especially in light of the rapid increase in cases.
The final and most important reason that I’m sure we have all noticed, especially in Budapest, is that
everyone seems to have forgotten that there is a pandemic situation going on.
MÁV recently had to emphasize that anyone caught without a mask on public transit will be fined, due to the large number of people not wearing masks anymore.
Regarding schooling, the government has made moderate preparations. While some funding was made available for schools to “covid-proof” their classrooms, with already cramped classrooms and few teachers this is practically impossible. You cannot expect the available space in classrooms across the country to double overnight. Mind you, in some cases, outdoor teaching could be a temporary solution to this problem as it has been proven that being outdoors greatly reduces the spread of the virus.
The border closures, while sudden (and also a surprise to many EU member states), are quite drastic. Hungary has been labelled the only “green” country, with the world marked as “red”, meaning that foreigners without an official exemption cannot enter the country at all after September 1st.
Of the three reasons mentioned above, the last one is what individual Hungarians are responsible for in their day-to-day lives.
While both the opening of schools and the closure of borders is a government decision, wearing a mask on the metro, in stores, or even in places where it is not required by law such as hallways, is common sense!
The worst response to having a low number of cases is to stop wearing masks, I’m pretty sure playing catch-up in the Covid-19 race is not something we want to be doing. According to the WHO, the chance of virus transmission drops from 17% to 3% when wearing a mask, and a German study in the city of Jena also showed that the introduction of masks significantly reduced the spread of the virus in the city.
It is clear that everyone is suffering from some sort of “covid-fatigue”, but to be completely honest, Hungarians (and Europeans in general), had a pretty open and relaxed summer in comparison to many other parts of the world. Hungary has been open since the middle of June and tourist spots across the country have been packed ever since. So, there really isn’t any excuse to not be wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing, or any of the other guidelines that we are supposed to follow. We still had our “Balaton summer, and now it’s time to buckle down again and take this thing seriously.
Featured photo illustration by János Philip/BME/MTI