Hungarian government sees no scope to ease coronavirus curbs yet

FILE PHOTO: Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives for an EU summit amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown in Brussels, Belgium December 10, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman/Pool

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – The third wave of the coronavirus pandemic will reach its peak in Hungary by the end of March the latest, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff said on Thursday, adding there was no room to ease lockdown measures yet.

Gergely Gulyas told a briefing that the government was still planning a phased reopening of the economy, which will depend on the scale of COVID-19 vaccinations.

Orban, who faces elections in early 2022, wants to immunise as many people as he can quickly, to be able to reopen and jump-start the economy, which shrank by 5.1% last year.

On Thursday, Hungary reported its highest daily tally of coronavirus-related deaths at 207, with 10,386 people in hospital – also a record high – which puts major strain on the health system.

“Based on the numbers, it is not the time to ease restrictions,” Gulyas said, adding that Orban would announce next week’s measures on state radio on Friday morning.

Hungary has had a 1900 GMT night curfew since mid-November, and restaurants and shops are closed, except for food stores and pharmacies. All schools are in remote learning.

Gulyas said the government was not planning to impose any regional closures or other new regional measures to curb the spread of the virus.

Hungary, which has a population of 10 million, has inoculated 1.442 million people so far, and Gulyas said that by June the government planned to vaccinate everyone who had registered for a shot.

It was the first EU nation to buy and use Chinese or Russian vaccines as shipments from Western suppliers lagged.

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