If Hungary can begin using China’s Covid-19 vaccine then all those who have registered for a shot can be inoculated by Easter, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said on Friday.
In his regular interview to public broadcaster Kossuth Radio, Orbán said it was “good news” that some 700,000 people in Hungary are now protected against Covid-19, with 310,000 having received their first shots and 383,000 who are confirmed to have recovered from the disease.
He noted, however, that the decline in new daily cases has come to a halt, with 99 deaths and 1,860 new infections recorded on Thursday. A total of 3,828 people are hospitalised with Covid-19, 299 of them on a ventilator.
“The rules must remain in place,” the prime minister said, noting that the whole of Europe has seen similar trends in their Covid cases in recent days. Orbán attributed Hungary’s recent rise in cases to the spread of the UK variant of the virus.
He added, at the same time, that Hungary did not need to impose further restrictions to combat the epidemic, saying that the country now had enough vaccines to offset the rise in cases.
Orbán said that if Hungary could start vaccinating people with China’s Sinopharm jab, which he said would happen soon, all 2,448,000 people who have registered for a Covid shot could be inoculated by Easter.
By late May and early June, fully 6.8 million people could be vaccinated, he said, adding that this would mean Hungary would have 3.5 million more people inoculated than a country with a similar size and population. People in Hungary are currently being vaccinated at 7,189 vaccination points, the prime minister said.
Orbán also noted that it was not yet known how long immunity lasts after a person has been vaccinated, saying the country needed to be prepared for the possibility that people will have to be vaccinated every 6-8 months. Hungary therefore has to be procuring vaccines on a continuous basis, he said.
“We need to have prowlers and scouts on the move all the time, and whenever it looks like a few thousand or hundred thousand vaccines fall off a truck, a Hungarian prowler has to be there to catch it,” Orbán said.
As regards the European Union’s vaccine procurement strategy, the prime minister said the business plan itself was sound, but the problem was that it was taking too long. “And those who are able to buy time can save lives, which is why Hungary needs the Chinese and Russian vaccines as well,” he said. “Those who waste time will lose lives.”
Concerning the Chinese vaccine, Orbán said Hungary’s public health authority had yet to assess the jab, adding, at the same time, that there was a good chance that it would be safe to use.
Put to him that many believe Hungary should wait for the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to approve the Sinopharm vaccine, Orbán said Hungary’s health experts were “at least as qualified” as any European expert, adding that he was more confident in the judgement of the Hungarian public health authority than in that of the Brussels-based body.
“We have to trust ourselves, [Chief Medical Officer] Cecília Müller and her staff and Hungarian professors,” the prime minister said. “Every day we spend waiting, the country loses another person, so I’m not going to wait.”
On the topic of the government’s latest National Consultation public survey concerning when to lift coronavirus restrictions, Orbán said the questions would be finalised on Friday afternoon and the survey would be accessible online at the website vakcinainfo.gov.hu.
Orbán said the government was making plans for introducing a vaccination certificate. If the national consultation survey shows that respondents believe more freedoms should be given to people who are protected from the virus, there should be no technical obstacle to immediately giving them these freedoms, he added.
It would be correct to give protected status also to those that “have antibodies which means they have already had the infection” even without realising it, Orbán said.
Commenting on economic issues, he said vaccination, the lifting of restrictions and the restart of the country would give the most important help to sectors in trouble. Tens of thousands of jobs could be saved if at least those who have been vaccinated or recovered from the infection could use hotel and restaurant services, he added.
A 10 million forint interest-free loan to be launched in the near future to micro and small businesses in trouble will be an important element of economic recovery, he said. He added that once demand for the credit exceeds the allocation limit of 100 billion forints, he would like to see the limit lifted and make the allocation “open from the top”.
Thanks to a new home renovation scheme, the increase in home creation subsidies and the decrease in VAT for home construction to 5 percent, Orbán said he expected a labour shortage, especially in the construction industry. At the same time, he said a “home construction boom” could start.
Economic recovery is a “tough job” but “we will push on” and Hungary’s economy will quickly return to pre-crisis levels, Orbán said.
Pensioners are to receive in a few days the first week’s worth of 13th month pension which the government has reintroduced in line with a four-year plan. As a result, the “last sin committed by the previous left-wing government” would be corrected, he added.
“The left wing is not in an easy position … we are clearing away the traces of all their sins,” Orbán said, adding that in addition to the 13th month pensions, the left wing also scrapped the 13th month salaries of civil servants, doctors and nurses.
Featured photo by Zoltán Máthé/MTI