UPDATED - New measures announced on Monday morning - see link at end
Photo: A government-sponsored placard informs the public that the second wave of
the pandemic "has also reached Hungary", advises on social distancing and declares:
"Together Again will [Bring] Success".
Some believe more spent on the health service in years gone by than on propaganda today, (using government-friendly PR agencies) might have been more effective use of taxpayers' money.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán re-introduced a state of emergency and announced a batch of new measures intended to stem the rising tide of Covid-19 infections late last Tuesday.
These include stricter mask-wearing regulations, the total closure of nightclubs and discotheques, the reintroduction of free parking (supposedly to reduce the load on public transport) and the imposition of a curfew between midnight and 5.00 am, except for those travelling for work and emergencies.
The prime minister justified his decisions saying: “We need quick action to make decisions in time.” The police also pledged to enforce regulations more strictly in order to make them effective.
However, health experts and politicians of all parties, not least some of Orbán's own MPs, were aghast at the leniency of the latest measures.
As might be guessed by anyone who has been on a Hungarian street after midnight in the past two months, the curfew was dismissed as “ineffective” by Bertalan Tóth, president of the Socialist Party, who derided the package as “weak pseudo-measures of a weak cabinet."
Momentum pointed to Hungary's neighbours, saying that “Slovakia has tested the entire population, and in Austria the state pays the wages at companies struggling, while we defend ourselves against the epidemic and its economic impacts with free parking, a state of emergency and football matches.”
Fidesz MPs interviewed by website hvg.hu were dismayed at the temerity of the announcement, saying Hungary should be following Austria in enforcing stricter measures, including the closure of swimming pools, sports centres and similar institutions where people could gather in significant numbers.
Regardless of the severity of the measures – or lack thereof – nothing has impeded the relentless, alarming advance or the coronavirus. Saturday saw the 5,000 threshold for new infections smashed for the first time, with 5,318 new cases reported. Added to the Sunday figure, the total came just nine short of 10,000 newly infected people recorded this weekend.
Overall, Hungary reported over 30,400 confirmed new infections this week, an average just below 4,350 per day – a rise of 52% compared to last week. The latest data leaves Hungary with just over 82,000 known active cases across the country, with anecdotal evidence indicating the real number is likely to be significantly higher as testing capacity is inadequate to match demand.
Of the current cases, some 75% are in the provinces, with just 25% in the capital.
The number of deceased rose by 619, including a record 107 reported on Saturday, bringing the total since the onset of the pandemic to 2,438.
The government repeatedly uses statistics from March to justify its claims that Hungary compares well with most European countries in handling the pandemic: critics point out that this conflates the low infection and death rates of the first four months with the fast deteriorating numbers starting from September, which put Hungary amongst the worst performers on the continent.
Mr Orbán is now emphasising the solution now lies in obtaining a vaccine for the virus, with Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó – who himself tested positive for the virus in Asia this week - saying a Russian inoculation could be in Hungary by December.
But with the death rate likely to hit 200 per day within the next 10 days or so, Mr Orban might be in need of some new, fast and tough decision making if he is to keep his standing among the electorate. Links:
NEW MEASURES announced on 08 November
For a well-researched overview of the coronavirus pandemic in Hungary, see: https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m4153 For details of the new measures announced this week, see: http://abouthungary.hu/blog/pm-orban-on-new-measures-to-fight-pandemic-we-need-quick-action-to-make-decisions-in-time/ Latest numbers (in Hungarian): https://koronavirus.gov.hu/#/