Controversy rages over vaccination programme as infections hit new daily record of 7,200 plus
Vaccinations Going Well! The photo accompanying the story on the government website. Only it doesn't say if our lucky gent recipient has a scheduled appointment, lives 100 miles away or has just walked in from the street and asked in hope.
The Government website is full of positive news this evening about how the vaccination programme is progressing. It cites for example, a state television lunchtime piece on how the vaccination programme is "going well", with 200-300 injections being given daily to mostly the elderly by GPs, according to Mária, Janecskó, head of the inoculation team at Budapest's St János Hospital.
Unfortunately, independent websites are giving another story, one of chaos and ad hoc vaccinations to anyone who walks in off the street and asks nicely – at least on Saturday.
But let's get first to the basic data, at least according to the government, because the surfeit of positive stories had pushed the bad news of the day off the 'front page', namely that some 6,200 new infections were reported this morning. There were also 108 new deaths, or, as the website puts it – 108 deaths of the sick. (Subtle message, if they are sick, it's not so bad that they died, you see. Of course, they only died because they were sick, but let's not quibble about the details.)
But worse still, the daily report yesterday had even moe dreadful figures, with 7,269 new infections – a new record for the entire pandemic - topping the previous worst one-day figure of 6,819 in late November by 450 new cases.
Of course, 24-hour numbers can be misleading. Nonetheless, the last four days have seen more than 6,000 new cases every day, reminiscent of the worst days in the second wave as November turned into December last year. New infections for the week totalled just over 37,400 – up by 46% on last week's total of 25,576.
As a result, active Covid sufferers in Budapest have surged by 4,800, or 30% to almost 20,800. In the countryside, numbers jumped 23% to close to 94,000.
The country also saw deaths climb to 899, up from 675 the previous week, marking the worst seven days since the end of 2020.
Little wonder, then, that the government has been urging people to register for vaccination. And, according to official figures, progress has been made. As of Sunday morning, more than 981,000 had received at least one jab, meaning almost 304,000 had got their first jab last week – a 45% jump on the previous week's total.
By tonight, chances are the 1 million threshold will have been topped.
Of course, these numbers include those receiving the Russian Sputnik V and Chinese Sinopharm vaccines, which have not been cleared by the European Medicines Agency. This means that, even if they are effective, and with no negative side effects, people thus inoculated may not be considered clear to travel if and when a 'vaccination passport' is created and validated across the European Union.
But let's return to the vaccination programme planned for this weekend, and how well – or otherwise – it has progressed.
The plan was to inoculate 74,000 chronically ill between the ages of 18 – 60 who had registered for jabs. Each person was due to receive a time and place for the vaccination. Unfortunately, according to independent website Telex, for many things went awry from the very start, with people who'd already been inoculated being told to report for jabs, and others instructed to travel up to 100 miles to receive treatment.
In fact, things got so out of hand that the authorities cancelled the whole plan.
Except, they didn't tell everyone involved, or if they did, not everyone got the message.
On Saturday, this resulted in confusion, with some medical teams ready to give jabs, but seriously lacking willing patients. Before long, some more entrepreneurial types decided to pop along to try their luck at the underutilised inoculation points.
As Telex journalist Sándor Joób put it, in a piece published just after midnight on Saturday, “the situation was so chaotic and the control so poor that they eventually vaccinated those who just walked off the street.”
Joób goes on to write about a “middle-aged reader” who wrote to the website admitting he (or she) had no illness, had not registered and, naturally, had not been sent an SMS for a vaccination appointment. However, after narrowly failing to get a jab at one centre, walked on to another.
“Again, here there were only a few people hanging around. Our reader stated he had not registered, and was only asking for vaccination if it were possible. So they called someone, and then announced that everyone could be vaccinated. Our reader registered, went up, and it was his turn after 10 minutes,” Joób wrote.
An why not, you might ask, if the medical teams were there, but the designated patients were not turning up? Indeed, given that some of these vaccines go off quickly, it seems the only sensible thing to do in the circumstances, in order not to let them go to waste.
There was more than one story of this ilk.
The problem was that, in this era of social media, before long dozens, perhaps hundreds of would-be recipients of ad hoc inoculations were soon turning up in the hope of a quick jab. And naturally, this resulted in yet more chaos and disappointment, especially on Sunday, when it seemed the order went out to cease these unscheduled vaccinations.
The whole caboodle can't have been helped by the decision at the end of last year to restructure the health service, with medical staff told to sign new contracts this past week - or leave the service.
Yes folks, this is Hungary today. In the middle of the worst virus pandemic in living memory, the great and wise ensconced in the luxury of Castle Hill decided to scrap the old medical order and bring in the new under the guidance not of a health expert, but under the Interior Minister – a former policeman.
It's like putting, say, a ballet teacher in charge of reorganising the New York emergency services at noon on 9/11.
Lacking any meaningful discussion on their future contracts, about 4,000 doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers reportedly resigned from this system this week. OK, that's only close to 4% of the total - but this is a service that is already chronically understaffed, overworked and under paid.
You don't need a Harvard MBA to realise this was not an ideal decision to make. But in Hungary, spontaneous Magyar genius beats the boring, conservative logic of other societies and nations, you must understand.
The first featured story on the government website tonight is a post about Prime Minister Viktor Orbán headlined: “We Must Continue the Consultation”.
The country's elected leader is here, of course, talking about the second so-called “National Consultation” (see post of February 18). According to the PM, “we have to decide together: how to open [the country from lockdown], in how many steps, and by how many degrees”.
"I ask you to take a quarter of an hour and take part in the consultation!" the PM concluded in his video message, the website reports. Here's a screen shot of the post,
I suspect a good few Hungarian doctors and nurses wish the former law student turned politician (with barely a quarter of an hour spent in what might be termed 'a proper job' in between) wish they'd been given 15 minutes of consultation regarding their own professional careers before they felt the need to resign this week.
I wish all readers a safe, healthy week, and if you are registered, a successful inoculation.