Summer's (almost) In - Lockdown's Eased - and we Love it! But will there be a Price to Pay?
Infections are down, Vaccinations are up - but with the exception of tiny Gibraltar, Hungary Tops Global Covid Death Rate
It's party time in Budapest yesterday as crowds enjoy the opening of restaurant terraces and 11.00 pm curfew extension - but note the missing face marks.
Photo Zsolt Reviczky, part of a photo essay: https://hvg.hu/kkv/20210424_Nyitnak_a_teraszok_eled_a_varos__galeria#utm_source=hvg_top&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter2021.04.25&utm_content=top1&type-id=HvgTopHvg&user-id=%7B@(%22@%22)sid%7D
There's no doubt that many Budapesters - and probably many across Hungary - welcomed the easing of lockdown restrictions yesterday, which coincided with one of the first warm days of an otherwise decidedly cool, grey April. The good mood was encouraged by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán - well, let's face it, which politician wouldn't want to get in on the act and earn a few votes where possible, especially when he ordered the new lockdown regulations. The trigger point was passing the 3.5 million people receiving at least one vaccination, a threshold number passed on Friday and which, according to the prime minister, makes things safe for this easing. So much fun, and all the while, the vaccination programme is "continually progressing", as the government website continually expresses it, to reach nearly 3.6 million inoculated, with nearly half of these having had a second jab. And it's set to get better, with the PM Orbán promissing to open "theatres, cinemas, gyms and zoos", once 4 million have been vaccinated, a targe expected to be reached late next week - in English here. https://abouthungary.hu/blog/pm-orban-a-wide-range-of-services-will-be-available-for-those-with-an-immunity-certificate-after-vaccination-numbers-reach-4-million So, is everything hunky dory here in Magyarland? Well, not quite. As even the government website warns, what it calls “the Brit mutation” is continuing to cause “several thousand” infections (no mention that I can see of the regular, 'Chinese' original variant doing the same), and calls for the public to continue to stick to good hygiene practice. It also states the infection stats, which have fallen to 19,000 this week – a vast improvement on the record numbers of 52,000 one month ago, but this is still in excess of 2,700 per day, a number that would have caused shock in the first wave last spring. As for deaths, which lag the infections, of course, the official numbers topped 1,400 last week, and while 18% fewer than the previouis week's record of 1,767, the average of 206 per day is still one of the worst weeks on record. Indeed, with the exception of tiny Gibraltar, Hungary now tops the rankings of countries in terms of deaths per million population, at 2,762. https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries On top of this, we have to ask, is the Prime Minister making the error of running in front of himself with regard to the meaning of “vaccination”? Yes, 3.6 million have been inoculated, but more than half of these (including yours truly) are not fully immunised. Indeed, given that the full effect of the second jab does not take full effect for something like one to two weeks after the shot, not even all the 1.62 million with two vaccinations have the full protection of the vaccine, and won't have for another week or so. In other words, Hungary has begun to open up with only around 15% of the population fully immunised – that is around 95% immunised at best, given that even the most effective vaccines do not give 100% protection. 15% - one in seven people – of the population is nothing like the 70-80% needed for 'herd protection' so vaunted by political leaders around the world (and this is only a theoretical number, given mutation developments).
PM Orban toasts the good times with the best of them - but with 200 plus deaths per day, will his keeness to shout "Egészségedre! Hajrá Magyarok!" come back to haunt him? Photo from PM's facebook page. The prime minister is desperate to get the economy going – indeed the entire government from January has been talking up “double digit” growth in GDP for the second quarter – a deceptively easy achievement given plunge in output from April to June last year caused by the massive lockdown in the first six weeks of the quarter last year. So, given from what I personally witnessed last summer, and what reports and the hvg.hu photos illustrate of yesterday's opening, what might be called 'mask and social distancing' discipline plunged in the enthusiasm for some fun once the restrictions began to lift, I can't be the only person to believe the decision to begin easing lockdown with 19,000 infections and 1,400 deaths per week is a gamble, and a risky one at that. Let's hope it does not lead to a fourth wave before the third has barely subsided from its peak. I wish all a safe week.