Infection Rates Surge above 4,600 a Day, with Deaths Set to Top 15,000
PM Orbán warns country is facing "toughest two weeks of the pandemic" - urges public to register for inocculation
Above: A screen shot of a post on the government website giving details of bonus payments to GP doctors if inoculations rates at weekends are accelerated
It is not good news on the Covid-19 front this past week. After the decline in infections and deaths from early December to around January 20, the numbers have been steadily getting worse. But after some relatively good days at the beginning of last week, new cases surged from Thursday to average 4,600 daily for each of the final four days of the week. Such daily rates have not been seen since mid-December. Deaths have also climbed, with 675 deceased attributed to Covid-19 last week, 112 more - or 20% up - on the previous seven-day period. This leaves the official total of deaths since the beginning of the pandemic to a little under 15,000, a threshold that will almost certainly be surpassed when official numbers are released tomorrow morning. But while the average death rate, at a little below 100 per day, is not good, it is the rise in new infections that is surely most worrying. Taking the week as a whole, Hungary registered a total of 25,576 new cases up to today, a shocking 76% rise on the previous seven-day period, with 16% of tests – roughly one in six – proving positive. Given the way the government presents the data, it's difficult to figure out where the hotspots are, if any. It may seem incredible to the outsider, but as Péter Márki-Zay, the independent Mayor of Hódmezővásárhely (a city of 45,000 in south-east Hungary) told the foreign journalists 10 days ago: “We were cut off [from the beginning] from the organisation of vaccination, unfortunately, just as we have been cut off from data for the last one year. [Throughout] the coronavirus crisis, we have never received official information on the number of cases, the number of deaths or vaccinations in our city. All we see is county level information, nothing specific, and even that is highly inaccurate.” What can be seen from the published data are the daily changes in active cases in the capital and provinces. These numbers indicate bad news for Budapest, where active cases rose by 3,100 infected people to a total of just under 16,000 – a jump of 24%. There are currently 76,500 active cases in the provinces, a rise of 10.5% on the previous week. (Numbers rounded off for ease of understanding.) The 'British variant' has been fingered for at least some of the blame of the latest increases. Desperate to reduce the potential danger from new mutations of the virus, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán warned on Friday that tighter restrictions would be applied to travel outside Europe, particularly “exotic locations”, but gave no details. On the plus side, almost 680,000 people have been vaccinated, close to 7% of the population, of whom 250,000 have received their second jab. The authorities began inoculations using the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine last week. As far as I am aware, neither it, nor the Russian Sputnik V vaccine also in use in Hungary, have been passed for use in the European Union by the European Medicines Authority, despite the positive report in The Lancet on the latter at the beginning of February. Orbán declared the vaccination programme to be going “pretty well” on Friday, but numerous reports on social media contradict this, speaking of long queues at vaccination points and slow processing. Mayor Márki-Zay told the media that from speaking to local people and studying social media there that there was “zero support” for both the Russian and Chinese vaccines in his city. In contrast, a reader of this blog and recipient of a Sinopharm jab in a town outside Budapest this week reported all went smoothly, being told by medical staff there was no evidence of public reluctance to take the Chinese vaccine. Orbán and government officials have urged the public to register for inoculation, insisting all vaccines in use in Hungary are safe, and slamming left-wing politicians for spreading “fake news" about the vaccination process and it efficiacy. The country was facing “the toughest two weeks” of the pandemic so far, he said. Monday is usually a day of low-ish figures in terms for Covid-19, as official reporting is typically delayed on Sundays. But from Tuesday on, we must hope that infections can be kept below the 5,000 level, or we will be close to returning to the disastrous days of late November and subsequent record numbers of deaths a week or so later. I wish everyone a safe and healthy week.