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1st COVID Restrictions Return to Hungary

Government

To curb the fourth wave of the coronavirus epidemic, the government has decided to reintroduce a limited number of protection measures, once again requiring the wearing of a facemask on public transport as of November 1, according to the official Magyar Közlöny (Hungarian Gazette).

More controversially, in the same edition, the government issued a decree giving employers the power to require their workers to be inoculated against the coronavirus “as a condition of working.”

Employers may require COVID jabs of their staff “if they deem it necessary in the interest of the safety of people working there,” according to the decree. Employers who instruct their workers to get vaccinated must give them 45 days to get their first jab. Employees who do not comply may be put on unpaid leave for a period of one year and may be terminated after that period if they still have not been inoculated.

Although the vaccination campaign has been relatively successful in inoculating the majority of the population, some still oppose its mandatory implementation.

While the Hungarian Unions Association (MASZSZ) acknowledged the importance of inoculation against the coronavirus, they issued a statement saying the government decision allowing employers to require their employees to get COVID jabs as a condition for working is “unacceptable.”

MASZSZ complained that unions were not consulted on the measure and said a “number of issues remain unclear” with its introduction. It also warned that employers could “abuse” their new power to expedite layoffs. The union association said Hungarians’ propensity to get their COVID jabs could be boosted with measures other than ones that “strengthen the employers’ position while increasing workers’ vulnerability.”

Visitation Ban

The leaders of social institutions have also been handed powers to protect their charges against the coronavirus. The National Center for Public Health (NNK) declared that the heads of all institutions providing specialized care in Hungary could order a ban on visiting or leaving the institution.

According to the announcement, before making a decision, managers should consider whether the number of coronavirus-infected people in a building exceeds 5% of the number of caregivers and whether isolation can be provided from other caregivers and their visitors.

NNK indicated that, unlike previous waves of the epidemic, social institutions are much better protected against the virus. Social workers were among the first to be vaccinated at the beginning of the year, and many have already received their third “booster” vaccination.

In addition to these workers, most people over the age of 70 and those with a chronic illness have also been vaccinated, as have many people aged 12-18, virologist Miklós Rusvai said on TV news channel M1. However, he emphasized that the group in between are at higher risk due to lower vaccination rates, and as a consequence, the average age of coronavirus patients has been declining.

Meanwhile, another 300,000 doses of the COVID vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech were delivered to Hungary in the past two weeks, bringing the total to 9.9 million jabs.

Buoyed by its high vaccination rate, Hungary continues to provide medical assistance to countries in greater need. For instance, it recently sent 40 ventilators, 1,650 face masks for non-invasive ventilation and 3,000 boxes of favipiravir, a drug used to treat coronavirus patients, to 20 hospitals in Romania, mainly in Transylvania, to help the country’s pandemic defense efforts, according to Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of November 5, 2021.

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