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After a long period, the terraces of restaurants, bars, and pubs reopened on Saturday April 24th, after more than 3.5 million people in Hungary have been vaccinated against coronavirus. With little exaggeration, everything was about reopening on Saturday, as many people flooded restaurants in daytime as well as pubs during the evening. The atmosphere was like a big celebration, as if we had gotten rid of the virus. However, this is absolutely not the case yet, and the question of whether the restricted reopening can be safe is still something the government has to take into account if it doesn’t want to see a spike in numbers after two weeks. Numerous experts expressed concern after seeing the masses partying in the center of Budapest, Pécs, Debrecen, and other parts of the country.

Huge crowds partied on Saturday across the country after terraces were allowed to reopen. According to RTL News, huge queues formed in front of counters. Hardly anyone followed the epidemiological rules that are still in force, and most people did nor wear a mask on the streets. The police were generally forgiving and hardly ever intervented.

It is important to know that on Saturday, the day terraces were reopened, the number of fatalities was over 200 and almost 2,800 new infections were registered. According to the rules, mandatory mask wearing was and is still in force.

Not everyone reacted the same way to the new milestone in the fight against coronavirus.

Restaurant, pub, and bar owners happy but warn about respecting the rules

In general, the  owners of the restaurants, pubs, and bars, and their employees, have treated the opening in an absolutely positive way, as the purchases by consumers essentially provide a livelihood for many in the hospitality sector.

Rozina Wossala, the operator of one of the busiest places in Budapest’s city center,  spoke about the positive aspects of the recent period:

“I would call this a birthday for the hospitality sector, for those who have a terrace, for those who don’t I wish continuous endurance. Somehow those who are serious about this profession have remained in this profession. So the people you can now find in the market and who you can work with, are really professionals. And that’s a very refreshing aspect of this reopening.”

Others emphasized the negative aspects of reopening from the caterers’ point of view.

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According to numerous reports, caterers could not control the crowd in many places, as the masses flooded the terraces as if they were at a festival. According to the chairman of the Board of Hungarian Caterers, László Kovács, the locals alone could not cope with the congestion.

“We hope that guests also know that they have to social distance while waiting in the queue. And sending out staff – especially when the business is full and the service has to be handled – it is very difficult to function as a police officer or a system administrator.”

Hubert Hlatky-Schlichter, the owner of KIOSK at the base of the Elizabeth Bridge in Budapest, seeing the images taken of the opening of terraces and the gathered crowds said:

“We will only be open for two or three weeks if everyone behaves this irresponsibly.”

According to the owner of KIOSK, there will be nothing good about the way the crowd is crawling on each other’s necks and backs in the city center, nor about the fact that street parties will be held everywhere after that. The owner emphasized that the reopening of terraces does not mean that the pandemic is over.

KIOSK started the first day of reopening with a full house, however, they took care to maintain social distancing and seated their guests in a way in which they cannot be on each other’s necks. According to Hubert Hlatky-Schlichter, it is possible to meet safety expectations, but it also depends on what you expect from your guests: you can ask people to use the mask correctly, or get up from the table, in order to protect guests, staff, and yourself.

People did not seem worried by coronavirus pandemic

Among consumers, most respondents were not worried at all about the virus. According to different interviews conducted by 24.hu, Index.hu and 444.hu some have stated that because they were already vaccinated, they were no longer afraid of the virus and were able to sit more calmly on the terraces of restaurants and pubs. Others were not inoculated but believed their immune systems are “strong enough,” or simply felt that after all these months of restrictions, they can take some risk. Most of the younger people settled on the grass for a drink or a conversation with friends. However, as it can be seen from the videos, not all groups were social distancing or wearing masks.

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Many respondents said that the opening was necessary after several months of closure, and also psychologically a little outing with friends was very much needed. Social life was very much missed by interviewees, who decided to enter the center of Budapest on Saturday.

However, some were skeptical about the crowds and acknowledged that maybe the sudden reopening was not such a good idea:

“Let’s be honest, if we were all smart, we would all stay at home, for…I don’t know… one month, and then everything would be okay. It’s probably not good what’s happening right now, but we are here, because as soon as it’s allowed we are going to take the chance.”

Interviewees were also asked about their vaccination certificates and whether they will use such a system as soon as it is working. Hungary, as soon as it reaches 4 million vaccinations, according to government plans, will implement protection certificates or cards, in order to make it possible for people to visit places such as cinemas and theaters. There were those who said that they already had such a protection card and that they would definitely take advantage of the benefits that come with it. Others have not yet received the card, but they were hopeful that as soon as they could, they would definitely go to  theaters and cinemas.

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Experts expect a rise in cases

Unlike people in the streets, virologists and other health experts were not thrilled at all seeing so many people having fun without any precautionary measures.

“The terrace opening should not be experienced as a party, but as a responsibility for those who have not yet been vaccinated, who are still in danger and may be hospitalized,”

wrote virologist Gábor Kemenesi in a Facebook post.

He also added that restaurants also need to be helped for the industry to function, but he called attention to responsible behavior. He also highlighted that only 10-25% of the people between the ages of 18-40 are vaccinated who are most likely to take advantage of the reopening of restaurant and bar terraces. And most importantly, the pandemic is not over yet.

Emphasizing a similar opinion, Gábor Zacher, the chief doctor of the Hatvan hospital, considered the mass gatherings to be a huge irresponsibility.

“All I can say about the swarm after the opening of terraces: we, health workers, will be there by the bedside, we will give the right medicines, we will do everything for people’s lives.”

Zacher  believes that everyone is fed up with the confinement, however, he added that it must be accepted that the epidemic and our desires are still not in alignment. According to the toxicologist, what happened on Saturday and Sunday signifies a huge degree of irresponsibility and an incredible lack of discipline. He further argued that the effects of such behavior will be seen in hospitals in a week or two.

According to Zacher, many of us forget that after the first vaccination we are not yet adequately protected. Protection develops two weeks after the second jab in most cases. He added that there were some patients who were hospitalized at Hatvan Hospital after the second dose of vaccination, although it was not necessary to put them on a ventilator and the disease was not as severe as it would have been without the vaccinations.

Featured photo by Attila Balázs/MTI