Five million Hungarians are expected to have received at least their first jab on the week after the Pentecost holiday, the last week of May, the prime minister’s chief of staff said on Thursday.
“With this in sight, the cabinet will at its meeting next week discuss easing further pandemic-related restrictions,” Gergely Gulyás told his regular weekly press briefing held online.
Gulyás said that under the government’s plan, Hungarian citizens living abroad will also be entitled to receive a Hungarian immunity certificate.
Hungarian citizens inoculated against Covid-19 in any member state of the European Union, NATO or the OECD, and in Russia or China can apply to obtain a Hungarian immunity certificate after submitting a certificate of their inoculation to Hungarian authorities, he said.
Starting on May 28th, wedding celebrations will be allowed again regardless of the number of vaccinations at the time, he said.
The number of inoculations is currently close to 4.5 million, Gulyás said.
Vaccination of the 96,000 registered 16-18-year-olds will take place from Thursday to Tuesday, he said. The remaining 144,000 Pfizer vaccines are also expected to be used by then, he said.
Because both Western and Eastern vaccines have been administered, Hungary’s vaccination plan is one or two months ahead of other European countries, Gulyás said.
“Although restrictions regarding immunity certificates will remain in place until August, we may have a relatively normal summer,” Gulyás said.
Those who only accept Western vaccines will also be inoculated by end of June the latest, Gulyás said.
Five million people have registered for vaccination already, and another 260,000 people working in health care and law enforcement, as well as the residents of elderly care homes, have been vaccinated without registration, he said.
Hungary “leads the pack” with nearly 56 percent of adults inoculated, Gulyás said.
Meanwhile, social immunity is growing, along with falling caseload and fatality numbers, he said. However, the regulations in force will have to be observed until five million Hungarians have received their jabs, he said.
Gulyás noted the WHO’s decision to recommend the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine for emergency use, saying the decision “vindicated” Hungary’s use of the vaccine as a safe and tested substance that provides the necessary protection.
Gulyás said the restrictions applying to gatherings at funerals would be lifted once Hungary reaches 5 million vaccinations.
No plans to accept negative PCR tests instead of immunity certificates
On another subject, he said there were no plans to accept negative PCR tests at events and establishments where entry is conditional on presenting an immunity certificate. Everyone has the opportunity to get the vaccine, Gulyás argued, adding that PCR tests were not as reliable as a jab.
Gulyás attributed a slowdown in the vaccination rate to people being “picky” about the jab they want. Close to 56 percent of Hungary’s adult population has been inoculated, he said, adding that the vaccination rate could even reach 65 percent by early June.
“We have to accept that the vaccine is voluntary and that everyone is free to decide whether or not they want the jab and which one they want,” Gulyás said. “However, we’re in such good shape in Hungary that we can soon declare an official result.”
Citing expert opinion, Gulyás said 55-70 percent of a country’s population had to be vaccinated in order for the country to achieve herd immunity, adding that countries where the vaccination rate was similar to Hungary’s had seen their Covid caseloads decline.
The government will not judge anyone who chooses not to get the vaccine, he said, adding, at the same time, that they needed to make a decision on who should and should not be allowed to enter enclosed spaces.
In response to a question, Gulyás said that including 16-18-year-olds, a total of 5.3 million people out of the 8.2 million who are eligible have opted to get vaccinated. The vaccine is a “national issue”, he said, arguing that the more people get inoculated, the more lives would be saved.
Seven countries already recognize Hungary’s immunity certificate
Asked about Hungary’s bilateral pacts on the mutual recognition of immunity certificates, Gulyás said Hungary has so far signed such deals with Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Turkey, Bahrain and North Macedonia. The foreign ministry is in talks with more countries, and announcements can be expected on further bilateral deals, he said.
Gulyás said Hungary was likely to have such pacts in place with all countries popular with Hungarian tourists.
On another subject, Gulyás attributed “contradictory statements” coming from Germany regarding the country’s acceptance of vaccines to the upcoming election campaign there. He said the Hungarian government would welcome a bilateral agreement with Germany allowing Hungarians and Germans to travel to each other’s country.
Asked about the EU’s planned “vaccine passport”, Gulyás said that since the bloc had yet to approve any legislation in the matter, the best Hungary could do was to conclude bilateral agreements on the mutual recognition of immunity certificates.
Meanwhile, Gulyás said the cabinet had also discussed Hungary’s long-term principles concerning the management of its vaccines. The government’s aim is to have enough vaccines available to be administered to those who lose their immunity.
Gulyás also said hospital Covid units could now start shrinking their staff and doctors were being sent back to their original practices and departments.
Asked about the decision to tie hospital treatment to paid PCR tests, Gulyás said those who are ineligible for the vaccine or have not yet received their immunity certificate would not have to pay for the test.
Asked about graduating secondary school students who were in quarantine during last week’s written school-leaving exams, Gulyás said they would take the exams at a later date — either this month or the next.
Featured photo by Attila Kovács/MTI