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  • Writer's picture Kester Eddy

Coronavirus Hungary: Infection & Death Rates Inch Upwards as Orbán Tightens Restrictions

Updated: Nov 16, 2020

Covid-19 cases by county in Hungary. Active infections now stand at 106,265, 75% of the total 140,961 cited here since the start of the pandemic.

In a week when Prime Minister Viktor Orbán introduced a package of what could be termed 'semi-lockdown' restrictions to fight the coronavirus pandemic, the alarming growth in both the rate of new infections and deaths over the past three months appears to have been largely curbed.

Calculated from government figues, new infections this week totaled 31,345 (that's 4,478 per day). This is a new record number and up from 30,427 for the previous week, but representing an increase of 918, or just 3% week-on-week.

Deaths this week came to 659, or 94 per day. Similarly, this is a new high for a week, and 40 more than during the previous seven days, but equates to an increase of only 6.5% week-on-week.

While these numbers are a tragedy for the people and families affected, they nevertheless indicate a rapid slowdown in the rate of increases that Hungary has experienced continuously since mid-August.

Indeed, even allowing for the 106,000 active cases nationwide – an increase of 24,157, or just under 30% since last Sunday - in pandemic-speak, this is almost, if not quite, the oft cited “flattening of the curve” in terms of new infections.

The big question, of course, is how reliable are these numbers - most especially in light of numerous reports circulating in the independent media (and from personal discussions) of inadequate testing facilities and long queues at family GPs?

Yet the official figures are clear: official test numbers last week totalled 145,591, up from 125,408, or 16% more week-on-week.

Obviously, the new measures introduced from midnight on Tuesday – which include the closure of bars and restaurants, an extended curfew from 20.00 to 05.00,, and a shift to online tuition for much of the education sector – have had no effect yet on infection rates.

Similarly, it seems difficult to attribute the improved figures to the mild measures introduced earlier this month, which in any case would have had little effect this past week.

In short, at least to this non-expert, it is puzzling what is behind these latest results (one reader has written in to suggest a combination of school holidays and bad weather reducing the chances of close contact) but naturally, I hope they are replicated, if not bettered, in the coming weeks.

The government, meanwhile, has placed much emphasis on the arrival of initial batches of the Russian anti-Covid vaccine, dubbed Sputnik 5, expected in the next week or so.

State-media reported Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó saying on Thursday that the government was in “advanced talks” on acquiring the vaccine, which has proved “92% effective” in interim trials, with small-scale deliveries possibly starting in December.

Intriguingly, while the government has also mentioned possible anti-dotes coming from both China and Israel, I have not seen any mention by the authorities of the vaccine jointly developed by Pfizer, the multi-national drug maker, and the originator - a small German pharma BioNTech which happens to be a company founded by the children of Turkish immigrants.

Certainly, as the Financial Times noted, while this drug still has to go through more testing for ultimate proof of efficacy, it nonetheless described the vaccine as “The Great Covid Breakthrough” in the current Weekend edition of the paper.

Now, forgive me if this sounds as if I have some western-bias here – and I'm quite sure that Russian pharmacologists could be among the best in the world – but I can tell you one person who is not going to be heading the queue for shots with a drug developed in record time under the current regime in Moscow – not even if I was eligible and you paid me.

I suspect many Hungarians - even the 1.1% of the population currently suffering from Covid-19 infections - will feel similarly, assuming they are properly apprised of the news, that is.

LINK: Official Gov't Website (In Hungarian)

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