Coronavirus: Latest Figures Raise Hopes - And Continue to Sow Doubts
The much heralded arrival of usable vaccine – courtesy of the European Union and Brussels Bureaucracy, no less – together with the latest infection and death figures have raised hopes that the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic in Hungary has been, or will soon be mastered.
Gergely Gulyás, head of the Prime Minister's Office, said at a year-end press conference on Tuesday, that the cabinet believed the second wave had peaked, and that with the number of new infections falling, it was hoped that with the daily mortality rate would follow within a fortnight.
Photo: The first anti-Covid inoculation in Hungary Source: https://koronavirus.gov.hu/cikkek/beadtak-az-elso-vedooltast-magyarorszagon
On top of this, Hungary ceremonially began its anti-covid vaccination programme yesterday, Saturday 26th, when János Szlávik, head of the South Pest Central Hospital’s epidemiology department, inoculated a staff colleague with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, produced in a Belgian plant, in front of state media.
(This was one day ahead of an agreed joint launch of a mass vaccination programme across the EU, but since when has Orbán's Hungary given a fig about EU unity, most especially when it can gain seemingly positive news headlines around the world. The BBC reported that Slovakia had also begun its programme on Saturday.)
Yet, in spite of a relentless tsunami of positive coronavirus stories appearing on government-controlled media, the total number of deaths in 'real' Hungary continues to be well above what could be expected from adding the officially reported Covid-deaths to the numbers from previous, 'normal' years.
And, as if to underline the public's lack of trust in the authorities, a mere 15% of respondents said they wished to be vaccinated against the virus, according to a poll conducted by the Central Statistics Office in the first week of December. More than one third of those questioned – 35.6% - said they did not wish to be vaccinated, with a further 28% undecided and 21% not wishing to answer the questions.
This is hardly a ringing endorsement of the government's efforts, but then, since the talk at the time was all about the arrival of a hastily developed Russian antidote, maybe that had something to do with public concerns.
But let's hightlight some of the more positive statistics.
New infections reported by the government this week come to 13,071, a dramatic fall of 42% compared with the previous seven days. Together with those recovering, this leaves 176,593 people actively infected with Covid-19 across the country. That's 21,000 fewer than a week ago.
Similarly, deaths attributed to Covid-19 last week totalled 948. That is 186 fewer, or 16% down week-on-week,
So far, so good, though it should be noted that the 698 new infections reported today is dramatically lower than previous days, and is more likely because of reduced testing over Christmas (just under 3,300 tests were recorded for December 26).
The bigger problem, however, continues to lie with the number of deaths reported by the Central Statistics Office.
The latest released numbers are for week 48 (the last week in November), which saw 3,773 deceased, the second-worst seven-day total of the year after 3,829 noted in week 46.
Last year, week 48 recorded just 2,357 deceased. This year, 872 deaths were attributed to the Covid-19 virus in week 48, so the total we could expect from these numbers would be in the region of 3,229. (Naturally, some variation would be expected.)
Yet this is 544 short of the actual total, which is almost 17% above what might be expected.
It would normally be wrong to base too much on the comparison of just one week's figures from one year to the next – except this is fully in line, indeed, a little worse than - the unexplained 'extra' average deaths of circa 500 logged in each of the previous four weeks, as was noted in last Sunday's post.
Somehow, the government has kept the lid on these discrepancies, though they have been reported on independent Hungarian websites.
According to the latest statistics published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Hungary has a 14-day death rate attributed to Covid-19 of 23.5 per 100,000 citizens.
These numbers - which are, naturally, based on the official reports - make Hungary the fourth worst performer on Covid-related deaths in the European Union, beaten only by Croatia, Bulgaria and Slovenia.
This, together with the unexplained 500 'extra' deaths per week in this worst period of the second wave, is nothing to be proud of. Whether the provincial population will ever be aware of this, given the paucity of independent news, is another matter.
I wish you a safe, healthy week. Note the government curfew is to be enforced on New Year's Eve, but I'm sure anyone reading this knows and understands that.