People line up outside hospitals as Hungary's vaccination week starts
Linda Kennedy in Budapest

People queued outside Budapest's main hospitals for COVID-19 jabs on Monday as Hungary for the first time offered vaccinations without prior registration.

Hungary reported 27,209 new infections over the weekend, its highest total since the pandemic began. The number of deaths recorded was 392.

The requirement to register and make an appointment has been set aside during what the government calls Vaccination Action Week which runs from November 22 to November 28. Across the country 101 hospitals are offering jabs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.. At Budapest's Uzsoki Street Hospital, some people came specially, other people were due their shot anyway.  

One man said: "I'm here now because you don't have to register to get jabbed. I don't like my details being registered. It will be my first vaccination."

Another man in the queue said: "I am here now because it is time for the third vaccination. Not because of the action week. Last week my wife was here during the day. I was holding the fort at home. I just told her now I'd do it myself, and that's it."



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Hungary's government says 68.4 percent of those aged over 12 are vaccinated against COVID-19. Independent audits put the figure closer to 66 percent. 

"Our hospitals are saturated, there are a lot of coronavirus patients in hospital and the number of daily infections is increasing significantly. I don't understand why some people don't take advantage of the vaccine, as we see them infecting not only themselves, but their loved ones, relatives and community members," said Cecilia Muller, Hungary's Chief Medical Officer.

The push on vaccinations comes after masks were last week made compulsory in most enclosed spaces. The government also said it would make COVID-19 shots mandatory for all healthcare workers.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said "people have to be convinced" to get a shot, rather than being compelled to do so. But neighbouring Austria is preparing the legal framework to bring in a vaccine mandate next February. Its vaccination rate, of 66 percent, is similar to that in Hungary.

Janos Szlavik, of Budapest's main COVID-19 hospital, said further measures could soon be necessary to curb infections as between 80 percent and 90 percent of COVID-19 patients requiring intensive care were unvaccinated.

Orban, who faces elections in spring next year, is walking a tightrope between harsher and unpopular measures to tame the COVID-19 surge, and retaining a strong economic recovery.

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