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Summer Dreams and Vaccination Take-up

Government

Photo by BPANIMALS / Shutterstock.com

The number of people vaccinated in Hungary at least once has passed the 2.5 million threshold, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in a video message posted on his Facebook page on April 6. “From tomorrow, businesses can open and services can re-start,” Orbán said. Hungary’s government had earlier promised that the gradual easing of pandemic restrictions could begin once the 2.5 million target had been reached.

According to a government decree issued earlier to come into force once the threshold was breached, the nighttime curfew will be shortened by two hours from 10:00 in the evening until 5:00 in the morning. It will also extend business hours to between 5:00 in the morning and 9:30 at night.

Businesses that were shuttered from March 8 to contain the spread of the coronavirus can re-open, but with the number of customers limited to one for every 10 sqm. The decree will not affect the ban on dining in at restaurants or recreational stays at hotels.

The restrictions closing non-essential businesses that were initially put in place for two weeks on March 8 had been extended for an indefinite period, Orbán told Kossuth Rádió on March 26. With the threshold for gradual reopening reached, we may have just passed the peak of the epidemic.

Virus researcher Miklós Rusvai had told business daily Világgazdaság (Global Economy) as much on March 28. Based on the wastewater data at that point, the virus researcher estimated that we were currently at or near the peak of the epidemic.

‘Sunny and Happy’

Rector of Semmelweis University Béla Merkely similarly told TV news channel M1 on March 29 that the peak was likely upon us. “If we look ahead, we have roughly a month and a half more of this epidemic, after which the numbers will drop significantly,” Merkely predicted. Put another way, he said, “Let’s endure another month and a half and we’ll have a very nice summer when families can be reunited and we can relax freely.”

On April 1, Orbán had delivered a similarly rosy expectation for the summer. He said Hungary had “2-3 difficult weeks” ahead of it, adding that “our summer will be sunny and happy.” This was during an interview with news channel M1, when he also stated that Hungarians who had registered for the COVID vaccine could get their first jab by the end of April or early May. By the end of May or early June, there would be enough vaccines to give 7 million Hungarians their first jab, he added.

According to a recent survey from the Central Statistical Office (KSH), the proportion of those who want to be vaccinated or have already been so rose to 52%. Only 21% are reluctant to get the jab against COVID.

A website launched on March 25 by the National Health Insurance Fund that allows Hungarians to check up on the status of their COVID vaccination registration was hit by a cyberattack. Róbert Kiss, the deputy head of the command center for the body coordinating Hungary’s response to the pandemic, said vakcinareg.neak.gov.hu could not be reached for a short period as it received more than 600,000 malicious hits in a denial-of-service attack.

Despite this setback, Hungary has the second highest rate of vaccination in the European Union, as of April 7. According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, 29.2% of adults in Hungary have received their first dose of a COVID vaccination, with 11.3% having received both.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of  April 9, 2021.

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