Hungary's lockdown continues as daily deaths soar
Penelope Liersch in Budapest
An employee checks newly arrived coronavirus vaccines from Chinese company Sinopharm in Budapest, Hungary. (Noemi Bruzak/MTI via AP)

An employee checks newly arrived coronavirus vaccines from Chinese company Sinopharm in Budapest, Hungary. (Noemi Bruzak/MTI via AP)


On Tuesday, Hungary recorded more than 2 million COVID-19 vaccinations, giving the country a 20 percent vaccination rate – yet the health system is still struggling against the third wave of the coronavirus. 

Lockdown restrictions are likely to be enforced for much longer than the government had forecast, following record COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. 

A chief physician specializing in infectious diseases at one of the country's main hospitals has made it clear restrictions cannot be eased and "must be very strict" based on the latest data. 

During his appearance on Hungarian television, Janos Szlavik explained that while vaccination numbers are high, they're a long way off allowing the country to reopen. In order to reach herd immunity, 6 million to 7 million people will need to be vaccinated, the doctor explained. 


The latest warning against reopening comes after the minister responsible for healthcare flagged the possibility of a longer lockdown, until at least half the population is vaccinated – around 5 million people. His estimate would have the country broadly reopening in late May or June.

As recently as Saturday, the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban had been pushing the line that the country could slowly begin to reopen once 2.5 million people had a vaccine, but that seems to have changed following a week of record deaths and hospitalizations. Hungary now has the highest number of daily COVID-19 deaths per capita globally and recorded its second highest number of daily deaths in the past 24 hours. 

Local media have revealed for weeks that hospitals are struggling, with reports patients have been denied ventilators because of full intensive care units. As the numbers continue to grow, the government has started to vocalize some of the strain the health system is under. 

On Tuesday, Hungary's Surgeon General Cecilia Muller told a press briefing: "Epidemiological data are still not favorable, we registered over 4,600 new cases – this data should not deceive us as we see that the number of people treated in hospital has increased significantly in 24 hours, totaling now over 12,000."

From Thursday, teachers and school staff are due to begin being vaccinated with the hope enough jabs will allow a delayed start back to school on April 19. However, there are already concerns the vaccine timeline may do little to help ease the spread of infection as vaccinated staff won't achieve protection until early May. 

It's another in a long line of plans that seem to be falling short and could push out Hungary's reopening to early summer.

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