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Terraces, Services Reopen, as Pfizer Lines Stretch Around the Block

Government

Vials of the Russian Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine are prepared at a vaccination site set up at the Dr. László Elek Hospital and Clinic in Orosháza (196 km southeast of Budapest) on May 5, 2021.

Photo by MTI / Tibor Rosta

Restaurant and cafés terraces reopened on April 24, after 3.5 million Hungarians had been vaccinated, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced in a video posted on his Facebook page the day before. In addition to reopening, the terraces are allowed to remain open until 10:30 p.m., and the overnight curfew will concurrently be shortened and start at 11 p.m., Gergely Gulyás, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, said at a weekly press briefing on April 22.

The opening of the terraces noticeably reduced traffic at shopping malls that weekend Judit Balatoni, secretary-general of the Association of Hungarian Shopping Centers (MBSZ), told business daily Világgazdaság (Global Economy).

This effect seems sure to be temporary as a broad range of stores and services also reopened when Hungary reached the four million people vaccinated threshold on April 30, according to a short video Orbán posted on his Facebook page that evening.

The Prime Minister had earlier noted that these services would be available to people with COVID immunity certificates, which Hungarian citizens receive after getting vaccinated. Certificate holders can now patronize theaters, dance performances, concerts, the circus, cinemas, gyms, swimming pools, baths, skating rinks, zoos, amusement parks, museums, libraries, and sporting events, as well as interior dining areas at restaurants.

Hungary has reached bilateral agreements with Serbia and Montenegro on mutual recognition of these COVID immunity certificates, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó said in a message posted on Facebook. Slovenia and Bahrain were added to the list on May 1.

The government expects that five million people, half of the total population, will have had at least their first inoculations by the middle of May, Gulyás reported in a weekly press briefing on April 29. Apart from allowing wedding receptions, Orbán told Kossuth Rádió that the easing of any further restrictions would only happen closer to that time.

‘R’ Number Falls

Meanwhile, the reproduction number of the coronavirus in Hungary has fallen to around 0.7, Minister of Human Capacities Miklós Kásler told conservative daily Magyar Nemzet (Hungarian Nation) on April 22. Additionally, 62% of Hungarians now say they have firm plans to get vaccinated, according to a weekly survey by the Central Statistical Office (KSH).

Some 1.48 million doses of coronavirus vaccine from China and Russia were due in the following 10 days, Szijjártó said at a press conference on April 21. Of these, 600,000 jabs of the Sinopharm COVID vaccine had arrived on April 24, while Russia delivered 480,000 doses of its Sputnik V COVID vaccine on April 27.

According to data posted on the government’s official website for pandemic news, koronavirus.gov.hu, these “Eastern vaccines” account for just under half of the total number of jabs Hungary is using in its rollout program.

From the “Western vaccines,” some 355,000 doses of the jab developed by Pfizer and BioNTech arrived in Hungary on April 27, which led to an unusual circumstance on April 30. Orbán told Kossuth Rádió during his weekly broadcast that morning that registrants could choose the Pfizer vaccine on the website for scheduling vaccination appointments. The Government Information Center later wrote that a total of 100,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine had been set aside for the vaccination program on that day only.

That prompted the forming of lines hundreds of meters long at hospital vaccination points after the registration page crashed earlier in the morning. While this could have been due to the high level of traffic the website received for the Pfizer vaccine, the Operational Corps suggested a cyberattack had hit the website.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of  May 7, 2021.

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