Hungary’s businesses and services will begin reopening, as it has vaccinated more than a quarter of its 10 million people with at least a first shot, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said on Tuesday.
Orbán, who faces an election in a year, is trying to tame the world’s deadliest COVID-19 surge and balance that with the need to reopen the economy to avoid a second year of deep recession.
“Today we reached an important milestone,” Orbán said in a video on Facebook. “We have lived our lives now for a year in wartime-like conditions under restrictions, curfews and personal loss. The virus has waged a war against us and the only weapons with which we can win it are the vaccines,” he said.
“In the past month we increased vaccinations 2.5 times, so from tomorrow on, shops can reopen and services can restart. There will still be pandemic rules, please respect them.”
The central European country reported record coronavirus fatalities last week and doctors described hospitals filling beyond capacity, signalling the government may be forced to postpone a reopening.
Hungary has had the highest weekly per capita fatalities in the world for several weeks, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Its health care system has come under extreme stress, the government has said, despite vaccinating a fifth of the population in one of the fastest inoculation drives in Europe.
There were about 12,000 coronavirus patients in hospital on Monday, more than 1,400 of them on ventilators, the government said on Tuesday. Latest: Hungary’s Covid-19 death toll surpasses 22,000
The government has also vaccinated among the most citizens per capita in the European Union and imported the EU’s highest number of vaccine doses per capita, aiding a rapid inoculation drive.
“Hungary can be, Hungary will be the European country where everybody gets a vaccine the fastest. Every life matters to us!”, he said.
For now the reopening will not affect schools, which will reopen on April 17. Hotels also will stay closed, as will restaurants, which can open only for takeout or delivery, according to the new rules.
Doctors have warned that a hasty reopening would be premature.
János Szlávik, the leading infection specialist at a Budapest COVID hospital, told private broadcaster Hír TV that
“the country is far from a vaccination rate that allows reopening… herd immunity would be somewhere around 6-7 million people.”
The head of the country’s top medical school, Béla Merkely, told the newscast at RTL Klub that the 2.5 million mark was a good target but 5 million would be the level that means safety for everyone.
Medical associations have also called for stricter rules while business groups urged a gradual reopening.
Hungarian borders stay closed, so only international transport can access the Hungarian borders or citizens who will stay in quarantine for 10 days.