MOK and MKIK Take Divergent Stances on Restrictions

Government

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said tighter pandemic restrictions introduced between March 8 and 22 would be extended at least another week to March 29 in an interview with Kossuth Rádió on March 19. During this period, non-essential businesses have remained closed, while primary schools are continuing distance learning until April 7 and the end of the Easter break.

Meanwhile, on March 22, the Hungarian Chamber of Physicians (MOK) advocated for even tighter restrictions. MOK said it urged decision-makers to place limits on the number of shoppers allowed in stores, and to ban groups of more than three people in public spaces. The chamber also asked decision-makers to close shopping centers with the exception of supermarkets and pharmacies.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MKIK) recommended “a more rational and nuanced regulation” concerning pandemic restrictions. In a video posted on his Facebook page, Orbán said the chamber had asked for limits to be placed on the number of shoppers relative to area, rather than shuttering businesses, and proposed special rules for shopping centers. He said these would be discussed during a Cabinet meeting on March 24.

Regarding the public’s opinion on the matter, some 88% of Hungarians believe pandemic restrictions should be lifted only gradually, rather than all at once. State Secretary Csaba Dömötör shared the results from the latest national consultation on Facebook on March 20.

According to Dr. János Szlávik, the chief infectious diseases physician at the South Pest Central Hospital, it will take a few more weeks to reach the 2-3 million vaccination rate. Despite the fact that this may only have a small effect on the course of the epidemic, he said 60-70% of the population must be vaccinated to stop it.

Faster Rate

Szlávik told TV news channel M1 that the number of infected people in the third wave is rising at a much faster rate than during the first and second waves. He said the British mutation of the coronavirus is causing more serious illness, and the average age of hospital admissions has dropped by about five years. To address questions from the public related to the pandemic Szlávik began appearing on a new public interest program on Kossuth Rádió called Virus Info, alongside Béla Merkely, the Rector of Semmelweis University.

Within the past two weeks, Hungary says it has received at least another 550,000 doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, according to posts on the Facebook page of Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó. On March 23, he said that Hungary would also be receiving another 180,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.

According to koronavirus.gov.hu, the government’s official coronavirus website, these vaccines now account for roughly half of all those delivered to Hungary to date. Despite the country being one of only two states in the world utilizing five vaccines, the National Institute of Pharmacy and Nutrition (OGYÉI) has cleared the use of an additional two vaccines; one developed by China’s CanSino and the other the version of Covishield, developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, produced in India under license.

As of March 20, more than half a million people had been vaccinated within the past 10 days, koronavirus.gov.hu reported. According to a weekly survey by the Central Statistical Office (KSH) ending on March 7, roughly 46.4% of Hungarians had set plans to get vaccinated. That figure jumped significantly to 69%, according to another survey commissioned by pro-government daily Magyar Nemzet (Hungarian Nation) and conducted by Nézőpont Intézet.

The results of the latter survey, conducted between March 16 and 17, likely reflect Hungarians growing concern over the mounting number of infections taking place. According to Gergely Gulyás, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, Hungary aims to inoculate its entire adult population by June.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of  March 26, 2021.

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