• Kester Eddy

Hungary: Covid-19 deaths pass 13,000 – Infection Rate Shows This Ain't Going Away Soon

Updated: Feb 8

Experts (at least in English) frequently speak of the need to “flatten the curve” regarding infections – just not this way - as the declines in deaths and infections bottom out.

Photo: The government website reports the arrival of the first shipment of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine - on Saturday morning. Enough for "more than 20,000 jabs". According to plans, these will be for the sick aged under 60. Time for a look at the state of the coronavirus epidemic in Hungary again – and there's good news – and bad. The good? Well, in addition to the arrival illustrated above, the first shipment of Sputnik V vaccine arrived on Tuesday, which was kind of surprising because Prime Minister Viktor Orban clearly wasn't sure when the stuff would arrive just four days earlier when giving his routine weekly 'interview' on state radio, on the Friday. More Moderna vaccines arrived the same day. Looking at the government website's latest, just over an hour ago the government website reported that the Nemzeti Népegészségügyi Központ, which I shall translate as the National Public Health Centre (I don't know if it has an official name in English) had cleared Sputnik V for general use. In Hungarian here: https://koronavirus.gov.hu/cikkek/befejezodott-az-nnk-vizsgalat-lehet-oltani-az-orosz-vakcinaval Which is all fine and dandy, but more importantly for me (at least), the Lancet, the renowned medical journal, gave Sputnik V a very good pass mark on Tuesday. And Dr John Campbell, who wouldn't seem to be the kind to be taken in by your typical Natasha in the Lenin Hilton bar, and thus has not got any kompromat on him, is positively ebullient about the Russian product. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_EQbDHQN88&feature=youtu.be (Thank you, Vanessa for this link.) But distrustful waters run deep: as of last Wednesday it seems this good news had yet to reach the Hungarian Medical Chamber, which said that it could not with a clear conscience recommend the use of the Chinese and Russian vaccines in the absence of the documents needed to verify their utilisation from the Pharmaceutical and Nutritional Institute. (In case you're confused, it seems there are two supervisory bodies in Hungary that are needed to give the ok for a foreign vaccine to be used, the Pharmaceutical and Nutritional Institute, known by its acronym Ogyéi in the vernacular, which gave the first permit to import Sputnik V, and then the National Public Health Centre.) For now, let's assume the authorities, and the Lancet, have got it right. Sputnik V is not only ok, it's pretty damn good. The only problem for Hungary is that the much heralded first shipment consists of just 40,000 doses, enough to inoculate 20,000 people. Now that's a start, of course, but seems more a token quantity than the answer to the much criticised lack of EU ordered Pfizer competitor. Let's see if the bigger quantities come as promised. As an example of the thinly veiled contempt of the EU's efforts, as the government website on Saturday 'politely' put it: “Vaccine purchases from Brussels are completely unpredictable and [too] few vaccines have been arriving. Hungary is therefore making every effort to have enough vaccine [from Russia and China] to start mass vaccination.” Since PM Orban didn't know on Friday, January 29th that the Russian vaccine would be arriving on the following Tuesday, it wouldn't appear that Sputnik V deliveries are exactly that predictable either, but there we go. By the way, the government website yesterday also said orders had been placed with China for enough Sinopharm vaccine to inoculate 2.5 million citizens over the next four months. https://koronavirus.gov.hu/cikkek/1561-fovel-emelkedett-beazonositott-fertozottek-szama-es-elhunyt-96-beteg Right – enough of the vaccine situation. What's it like regarding infections and deaths? Well, as they say in Hungarian, a little bit ciki – it's not quite going as we might have thought three weeks ago, because the downward trend has not only ended, it's reversed, if only slightly. Official data reveals new infections hit just over 8,900 last week, up 11% from the 8,000 recorded last Sunday, which itself was marginally up on the 7,750 the week previously. The latter, by the way, is the lowest figure this year (figures rounded off for ease of comparison). I haven't seen any official mention of this upturn, but a reliable reader of this blog told me that at a mid-week meeting of Amcham (the American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary), a medical expert said it was assumed the uptick was because of the arrival of the more infectious forms of coronavirus from the UK. (I believe it was termed the "Kent" mutation, which if it sticks, is a bit of a cheek considering the damned thing all came out of China originally. Kent was my toddler-hood county. ) What's more, the appearance of this mutation means that herd immunity now only kicks in once 65-75% of the population is immune, rather than 55-65% based on the original coronavirus. Perhaps equally worrying is the death rate, which, having dropped to just below 80 per day last Sunday, has inched up again in the past week to hit 566, or an average almost 81 per day. These numbers are, of course, less than half the worst period of early December, but the fact that they are sticking at this level, first reached in early November, is not the best of news, and means, if unchecked, 1,000 deaths from the virus every two weeks. Hungary recorded its 13,000 death officially attributed to Covid-19 on Friday. Prime Minister Orban extended the lockdown measures to at least March 1 at the end of January, warning that any relaxation now could lead to a “third wave” of the pandemic later. Meanwhile Momentum, the new political party often likened to French President Macron's En Marche, has called for a partial relaxation of restrictions, such as a later evening curfew and limited opening of restaurants. Having witnessed the lax bar-distancing culture in Budapest last October, for once, I'm on the side of the former law student from Székesfehérvár on this one. His mistake was not to tighten regulations back then. I wish all readers a safe week.

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