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Mask-wearing Indoors on the way Out

Government

Katalin Novák, Minister without Portfolio for Families, holds a press conference after a meeting of the operational corps she heads responsible for the resumption of community life at the Prime Minister’s Office building on Kossuth tér on June 29, 2021.

Photo by MTI / Zoltán Balogh.

The government has decided it will ease pandemic restrictions further once 5.5 million people in the country have been inoculated, Gergely Gulyás, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, said at a weekly press briefing on June 24, according to state news agency MTI.

Mask-wearing will no longer be required indoors in most areas, and immunity certificates will not be mandatory for stays at hotels, dining indoors at restaurants, and visiting baths, Gulyás said. As of June 30, the amount of people vaccinated in Hungary stands at 5,486,514.

With the coronavirus crisis now at the stage of healthy recovery, the government has formed a new pair of operative corps, one to coordinate economic recovery and the other to support the recovery of social life; both held their inaugural meetings on June 15.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó is leading the former corps, while Minister for Family and Youth Affairs Katalin Novák heads the latter.

Hungary’s economic recovery can largely be attributed to its robust vaccination campaign. According to estimates from the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MKIK), the government’s decision to beef up its vaccination rollout by including jabs from China and Russia, as well as from a joint European Union order, saved the country “at least HUF 600 billion.”

MKIK head László Parragh said in an interview with conservative daily Magyar Nemzet (Hungarian Nation), “the crisis is estimated to have cost the country HUF 15 bln a day. If we calculate that [pandemic] restrictions could be lifted some 45-60 days sooner than in many other competitor countries, thanks to the extraordinary success of the vaccination program, that means we saved about 1-1.5% of GDP. That’s at least HUF 600 bln.”

Continued Delivery

And yet, even as the vaccination rate slows down, more vaccines keep pouring in. Although the last deliveries of the “Eastern vaccines” from China and Russia have arrived, Hungary is still receiving the COVID vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech on a near-weekly basis. Some 350,000 arrived on June 16, another 500,000 on June 23, then another 500,000 on June 29. The latest shipment raises the total amount of Pfizer vaccines received by Hungary to more than six million.

Hungary’s vaccine rollout has proved so successful, it feels able to assist other countries in need throughout the region. For instance, Hungary has sent hundreds of thousands of coronavirus vaccines to the Czech Republic to speed up its vaccination program. The state has also provided 200,000 Sinopharm vaccines each to Montenegro and Bosnia Herzegovina.

Hungary’s government has even offered to inoculate foreign nationals in border regions from July. As a result, foreign nationals living along the borders Hungary shares with Austria, Croatia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Ukraine will be able to get a COVID jab at designated inoculation sites in Hungary.

With inoculations being taken care of and regional support also underway, some have started thinking about summer travel in the area. Hungary reopened its internal Schengen borders from June 24. Since then, two cruise ships have already arrived in Hungary, the first since September, government spokesperson Alexandra Szentkirályi said in a video message on Facebook.

However, a majority of Hungarians are still cautious about their travel plans. Some 63% of respondents plan to travel by the end of summer at the earliest, although 51% of those planning to travel in the summer are thinking of traveling abroad, up from 44% at the beginning of last summer. For those planning a trip abroad, half are opting to journey to surrounding countries by car.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of July 2, 2021.

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