Sluggish vaccine deliveries are making the progress of the inoculation campaign very uncertain, the prime minister’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyás, told a press briefing. However, the situation is expected to improve in April thanks to “an unprecedented number of doses” arriving from China and Russia, he said, adding that faltering delivery form the European Union will hopefully also improve in the coming months. A decision on the schedule to reopen shops in Hungary is expected at the meeting of the operative board in charge of controlling the epidemic on Friday, he said. Gulyás said the operative board was looking into a proposal of the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry on allowing one customer per 10 square meters in shops. He said such a regulation would be welcome, but “there is no way to tell how many people would queue up with Easter coming up.”
Hungary’s inoculation rate is second only to Malta’s in the EU, giving rise to the hope that herd immunity would set in early, Gulyás said. Over 80% of coronavirus-related fatalities were among the elderly, Gulyás noted, adding that once they were inoculated, hopefully the current “grim numbers” would fall sharply. Regarding reopening the economy, Gulyás said the government was working on a plan with “clear objectives” linked to the number of people inoculated, he said.
In response to a question, Gulyás said the third wave of the pandemic was likely to be nearing its peak. Average concentrations of the virus in Hungary’s wastewater are now stable compared with a week ago, he said, adding that it had taken about 7-10 days for the concentration levels to shift. Gulyás said there was “a good chance” that Hungary could be done with vaccinating those over the age of 65 who have registered for a jab in the first half of April or even before Easter.
Concerning the two new vaccines that have been licenced by Hungary, Gulyás said the government had not yet signed a purchase agreement for either one. Hungary has, however, put in an order for 4,360,000 doses of Johnson and Johnson’s single-dose Janssen jab, he added. “As for when that will arrive, the answer to that lies with Brussels,” he said.
Asked about AstraZeneca’s vaccine deliveries, Gulyás said the health authorities were doing their best to make sure that those who get their first AstraZeneca shot can get the second one within 12 weeks. He added, however, that this was becoming more difficult with the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker struggling to meet its delivery targets. Asked about the Sinopharm vaccine, he said that unless mistakes are made locally, there should be no reason for GP clinics no to receive second doses on time. Asked about Russia’s failure to meet its target of Sputnik V deliveries by March 23, Gulyás said Hungary was scheduled to receive a total of 1.1 million doses of the vaccine next week, adding that the delays in the vaccine deliveries ordered through the EU were far more significant.
Asked about the capacities of Hungary’s hospitals, Gulyás said it was “untrue” that hospitals were understaffed or that some patients were not being cared for at all. All patients are getting the care they need, he said, adding that Hungary had enough ventilators, hospital beds and medicine to treat everyone. He noted that so far 500 medical students and graduate volunteers have applied to the National Hospital Directorate-General to help ease the burden on hospital staff treating Covid-19 patients.
Regarding Hungary’s Covid-19 death rate, Gulyás said the country was among those mounting an effective defence against the pandemic. He said that whereas Hungary had always managed to make timely decisions regarding its response measures, other countries had often acted in haste. “Hungary has been consistent with its handling of the pandemic, and has better indicators when we take real data into consideration,” Gulyás said, dismissing as “fake news” reports that not all Covid patients were getting sufficient care, adding that there are currently 1,784 people in intensive care units.
Meanwhile, Gulyás said Hungary did not require international assistance to ensure that its health-care sector can treat patients. He also said that local council-run outpatient clinics would remain under the administration of hospitals until the expiration of the special legal order imposed in connection with Hungary’s pandemic defence measures.
As regards Hungary’s immunity certificates, Gulyás said the government had no plans to change the document’s contents. The European Commission has yet to finalise its own plans for the European vaccine passport, he said, noting that it would also have to be debated by the European Parliament. “By the time there will actually be a European vaccine passport, the continent hopefully will be done with the pandemic,” he said. “Even if we’re talking about a fast-tracked procedure, this sort of legislative process takes two months.”
On another subject, Gulyás said only those who have been vaccinated will be allowed to attend the postponed Euro 2020 soccer Championship matches staged in Hungary. He noted that the government’s plan was to have everyone vaccinated by the end of May, adding that, hopefully, “this period will be behind us by June.” He noted that all sporting events were being held behind closed doors.
Meanwhile, as regards Hungary’s ability to continue enforcing its interests, Gulyás said that given Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was one of Europe’s longest-serving premiers, he did not believe Hungary had any reason to be concerned about partisan changes on the European political scene having a substantial impact on the country.