New ‘Stealthy’ Omicron BA.2 Variant Found in Hungary

Government

A sign points the way to a Coronavirus vaccination point at the Saint Rafael Hospital in Zala County on Feb. 8.

Photo by György Varga / MTI

The National Center for Public Health (NNK) announced that a new, more contagious variant of Omicron, called BA.2, had been detected in Hungary on Feb. 4, according to business daily Világgazdaság. Concurring with NNK’s investigations, Neumann Labs has since identified the new variant domestically in six more cases.

However, the Hungarian laboratory characterized the new subvariant as a rather uncertain, “stealthy” Omicron, as it can fool antigen tests and in some cases the variant test developed for the original Omicron (BA.1). Conventional PCR tests, however, can correctly detect all variants known so far, according to Neumann Labs CEO Miklós Nyíri.

The government has decided to extend the weekend inoculation drives initially launched in November into February, State Secretary István György, according to the government’s official pandemic website koronavirus.gov.hu.

As was the case in January, people can get COVID jabs at designated hospitals and regional vaccination centers without an appointment on Thursdays and Fridays, between 2-6 p.m. in the evening, and on Saturdays between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., György recalled. More than 420,000 people had received jabs in the inoculation drive during the first weeks of the year, he added.

Meanwhile, the government has decided to extend the validity of COVID immunity certificates for people who have been inoculated with the first two jabs until May 1, in line with other European Union countries, Gergely Gulyás, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, said at a weekly press briefing, according to state news agency MTI.

Gulyás explained that neither Brussels nor other EU member states had tightened rules on immunity certificates with the emergence of the Omicron variant, so the government did not want to put Hungarian citizens at a disadvantage compared to their European peers. Earlier, the government had said it would limit the validity of immunity certificates in Hungary from Feb. 15 to people who had their second COVID jab no more than six months earlier or had received their booster jab, a plan it has now abandoned.

Children’s Vaccine

In the meantime, another two deliveries of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for children aged five to 11 had arrived in Hungary over the past two weeks. Some 42,000 jabs were delivered on Feb. 1, while another 38,000 arrived on Feb. 8. Pfizer started delivering the jabs for young children to Hungary in mid-December.

In a further development of Hungary’s own vaccine production capacities, the Gamaleja Institute tweeted that Russia is working to transfer the technology needed to make the two-component Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, citing Russian President Vladimir Putin.

According to the Russian state institute that developed the Sputnik vaccine, the Russian president informed Prime Minister Viktor Orbán during his visit to Moscow on Feb. 1 that there were no obstacles to the production of the Russian vaccine at the Hungarian National Vaccine Factory, which is expected to be completed by December. Putin recalled that Russia had previously delivered more than two million doses of Sputnik to Hungary.

With its own vaccine deliveries and potential production in order, Hungary continued its donations to countries in greater need. Hungary gave 150,000 jabs of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine to Ecuador, and 200,000 jabs to Sudan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó posted on his Facebook page.

Additionally, Szijjártó said that Hungary has presented 80 ventilators to cooperating NATO partner countries, at the request of the organization’s Secretary-General.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of February 11, 2022.

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