Hungary may have to tighten lockdown as COVID cases jump, PM says

BUDAPEST — Hungary may have to tighten lockdown curbs as coronavirus infections are expected to rise “drastically” in the next two weeks, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday, as the daily tally of new infections jumped to 4,668, the highest this year.

Orban also said all the 2.5 million to 2.6 million Hungarians who have registered for COVID-19 vaccinations so far would receive at least one dose by Easter, in early April.

Orban, speaking on state radio, said he hoped to get vaccinated with a shot developed by China’s Sinopharm early next week.

He said travel outside Europe, including on business, must be radically limited. He flagged “very strict travel rules” to be worked out, and depending on the pace of new infections in coming days he said a tightening of restrictions could become necessary.

Hungary could also modify its vaccination strategy in order to have as many people as possible inoculated with at least one dose of a vaccine, Surgeon General Cecilia Muller told a briefing.

“With almost all the vaccines, protection of 50 to 75% has been registered already after the first shot. This is important as this is almost enough to prevent a serious disease,” she said, adding the South African variant of COVID has also been detected in Hungary.

Muller said Hungary could also consider modifying the age limit on the AstraZeneca vaccine, which in Hungary is currently offered to people below 60.

Nearby Poland said on Friday it would raise the upper age limit for people being given the AstraZeneca shot to 69.

The teachers’ union PDSZ called on the government to close all primary schools and nurseries.

The government has extended a partial lockdown until March 15. All secondary schools have been closed since Nov. 11, as have hotels and restaurants except for takeaway meals.

Hungary, with a population of around 10 million, has reported 419,182 cases since the start of the pandemic, with 14,795 deaths. (Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Tom Hogue, Lincoln Feast and Nick Macfie.)

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