Orbán: Omnicron ’Spreading Like the Wind’

Government

A girl is offered a sweet after being vaccinated with the second dose of the German-American Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine developed for children at a vaccination station set up at the András Jósa Training Hospital on Jan. 26 in Nyíregyháza.

Photo by Attila Balázs / MTI.

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus presents a “new challenge,” Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said during his weekly interview with Kossuth Rádió on Jan. 21. Although experts agree that Omicron is weaker than previous variants, Orbán said it is “spreading like the wind,” and its greater contagiousness should not be taken lightly.

As of Jan. 14, the National Public Health Center (NNK) determined that the Omicron variant accounted for 29% of coronavirus infections in Hungary. Within less than a week, by Jan. 19, chief medical officer Dr. Cecília Müller declared it had become responsible for 87% of new infections in Hungary, with the Delta variant accounting for the remaining 13%.

Fortunately, the government has been continuing its vaccine drive from December into January; anyone can go to a registered vaccination point without a prior appointment for an inoculation. In January, these times were designated for Thursdays and Fridays, between 2 and 6 p.m., and on Saturdays between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

In addition to the January vaccination drive, mobile vaccination stations have administered some 52,000 vaccinations to 32,000 people in 136 settlements in 16 counties since the start of the program 10 months ago, State Secretary at the Ministry of Defense Szilárd Németh announced on Jan. 17.

The government also determined that from Feb. 15, COVID immunity certificates in Hungary will only remain valid for those who are still fully vaccinated, Gergely Gulyás, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, said at a weekly press briefing on Jan. 13, according to koronavirus.gov.hu.

Gulyás clarified that immunity certificates would be valid for people who have had their second COVID jab no more than six months earlier or have had a booster jab. Prior to this, immunity certificates in Hungary had also been valid for people who had recovered from the coronavirus.

Gulyás added that the government decided to reduce the mandatory quarantine period for people infected with the coronavirus to seven days, which could be cut to five days if the infected individual lacks symptoms and produces a negative COVID test.

Accelerating Trends

While disrupting economies and supply chains, the pandemic has also accelerated the development of certain trends. For instance, the share of Hungarians who took online courses or used online learning materials has more than doubled during the pandemic, from 9% to 20%, according to data compiled by EU statistical agency Eurostat.

Between 2019 and 2020, the share of e-commerce had grown by 35%, according to experts from the State Audit Office (ÁSZ). According to business daily Világgazdaság (Global Economy), domestic e-commerce has grown by 45% and then another 30% in the past two years as a result of the pandemic. Their analysts believe that this growth is unlikely to abate and that 20-25% growth this year and next should not come as a surprise.

This growth has, in turn, led to a proliferation of courier services, with trade market growth of around 45%, according to Ajtony Bíró Koppány, secretary-general of the Association of Hungarian Logistics Service Centers.

Couriers are not only delivering food, but also clothing, toys, flowers, pet food and pharmacy products, Wolt managing director László Sabjányi told Világgazdaság. While the company was working with about 500 restaurant partners in 2019, it has since grown to more than 3,500 restaurant partners in 23 cities and around 6,500 courier partners.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of January 28, 2022.

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