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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back?

August, at least where I live in Gödöllő, went out with a bang. Quite literally, and several of them, in fact, as the god of thunder took up residence in our skies for most of the night. It was one of those storms that seemed to have more light than sound, but was no less impressive a son et lumiére show for all that.

It seemed an appropriate, if dramatic, way of drawing some matters to a close. The kids’ long summer holiday (which seemed to have lasted an eternity, given they had been homeschooling since mid-March) had finally come to an end. On September 1, autumn began, at least under the meteorological system of splitting the seasons into four equal three-month periods (astronomically speaking, fall doesn’t begin until the autumn equinox, which is on September 22 this year). It was also, of course, the start of the academic year.  

Sadly, these weren’t the only things September 1 brought: we also saw the closure of the country’s borders once again, in a bid to prevent further importation of the virus. Just about the only positive thing you can say about that is at least it takes away the uncertainty of worrying when they might close, especially if you are on holiday, but it wasn’t exactly the cheeriest way to welcome in a new beginning. It is, however, a stark reminder of how fragile any nascent economic recovery will be. We were back in the office, the borders were open, people could holiday, the weather was good. But the warning signs were there, the way countries suddenly moved on Hungary’s traffic light system for demarking safe destinations, the worrying spikes in France and Spain, among others.  

Here, too, cases are on the rise again, having grown by 118 to 6,257 on September 1, with 616 deaths. Everyone of those deaths is a tragedy, and one of the first hit the British Embassy hard, with the loss of its 37-year-old deputy ambassador Steven Dick. Ambassador Iain Lindsay speaks movingly about that (and much else) in his farewell interview with us inside this issue.

I wondered what others think about the level of risk in Hungary. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, in its Travelers’ Health section, Hungary carries a level three warning. The advice has not been updated since August 6, but says “COVID-19 risk in Hungary is high. CDC recommends travelers avoid all nonessential international travel to Hungary.” That seems a little overblown to me, but in governments around the world there is a near constant tension between health departments wanting to keep people safe and trade and business ministries hoping to keep the economy alive.

It has become common place to hear people say something along the lines of “We just have to wait for a vaccine to arrive.” What the U.S. White House calls Operation Warp Speed has seen giant leaps made around the globe to rush through a vaccine, but our columnist Les Nemethy makes the point that it won’t necessarily be a silver bullet.

I was speaking with my 90-year-old mother the other day. She hasn’t been outside the confines of her nursing home for six months now. “I think my generation had it easy,” she told me. “Of course, we had the war, but you just gone on and dealt with it, didn’t you?” Typical of her to dismiss the little matter of World War II in one sentence, but I think we will all have to tap into that sort of mentality before we can finally say we are post-COVID.

Robin Marshall

Editor-in-chief