Amid the raging coronavirus epidemic, Viktor Orbán said Hungary could start gradual reopening after 2.5 million people are vaccinated. The target is likely to be reached in the coming weeks, but according to the unanimous opinion of experts, this would still be far from enough to ease the restrictions.
Covid-19 is spreading at a frightening pace in Hungary. The country is constantly breaking records, while in addition to the second-worst mortality rate in the world, since the middle of March, Hungary has been having the worst figures regarding the number of new infections per population in Europe.
Despite the severe statistics, Viktor Orbán said several times that the gradual easing of restrictions and the reopening of the country could begin once at least 2.5 million people are inoculated.
Only a day later, the government already set the goal in a decree as the conditions for starting the first stage of a multi-phase reopening while also stipulating the new rules after it is reached.
Although 2.5 million people are likely to be vaccinated by mid-April, many experts have refuted Orbán’s aim.
Trade Union of Hungarian Doctors: Orbán’s goal puzzling
Hungarian doctors don’t understand how it would be possible to even consider the start of Hungary’s reopening once 2.5 million citizens are inoculated, according to the Trade Union of Hungarian Doctors. Experts have previously agreed that herd immunity needs to be reached with mass vaccination, and therefore set a 70 percent vaccination rate as the earliest starting point for ending the restrictions. But the new virus variant is much more contagious, so this rate can be as high as 75-80%, the vice president of the organization said in a recent interview, adding that right now Hungary should instead tighten the restrictions while people should be more disciplined when observing the rules.
Health expert Pusztai: Tying reopening to the number vaccinated a “flawed concept”
Health expert and former state secretary, Erzsébet Pusztai, told news site hirklikk.hu, that she had not yet heard of a country that would have tied the reopening solely to the number of vaccinated people. She cited Israel as an example, where despite the high vaccination rate gradual easing only started once the epidemic began to subside.
According to Pusztai, the number of people vaccinated will be really important in the long run, but we need to consider what age groups have been vaccinated. In Hungary, the vaccination rate of the elderly is much higher, while the infection is spreading increasingly fast among younger generations. Therefore, even with four million inoculated, the virus could still spread rapidly among young people.
Virologist Duda: A minimum of 3.5 million needed for the first step
Ernő Duda, a virologist professor at the University of Szeged, told news site 168.hu that at least 3.5 million people should be vaccinated for a “safe reopening.” The vaccination of 2.5 million people is only enough to significantly reduce the mortality rate. If we also want to reduce the number of infected people, we need a minimum of 3.5 million vaccinated. However, it would only be enough to halve the infection rate, not to reduce it to zero.
Semmelweis rector Merkely: A minimum of 5 million
Béla Merkely, the rector of Semmelweis University, drew the line higher, saying that although vaccinating 2.5 million people is a “fine goal,” for everyone to be “completely safe,” 5 million people must be vaccinated.
Infectologist Szlávik: A minimum of 6-7 million
János Szlávik, senior infectologist of the South-Pest Central Hospital, was even more careful than Merkely, emphasizing that “by no means can restrictions be eased yet;” Hungary must be really strict “given the current numbers.”
He explained in an interview on Monday that the vaccination rate of the country is “far from allowing us to reopen for the time being.”
2-3 million inoculated people can already influence the course of the epidemic, but we are still far from the herd immunity that requires 6-7 million to be vaccinated.
Minister Kásler: Vaccination of 4 million needed
In an interview, Human Resources Minister Miklós Kásler, said that taking into account all the negative circumstances, including the fact that the British variant of the virus spreads faster, and persists five days longer in the body, and assuming no unforeseen circumstance such as another variant appearing, then Hungary could begin reopening after the vaccination of about half its population in late May, early June. As only the adult population is currently vaccinated in the country, that means roughly 4 million people.
Featured photo illustration by Tamás Kovács/MTI