Hungary, one of world's worst-hit nations, to ease Covid-19 curbs after vaccine rollout

BUDAPEST (AFP) – Hungary will ease coronavirus lockdown restrictions from Wednesday (April 7) after Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that around a quarter of the population had received at least a first vaccine dose.

“Today we reached an important landmark, 2.5 million of our compatriots have been vaccinated,” Mr Orban said in a Facebook video message on Tuesday.

Hungary’s vaccine rollout sped up last month after the government decided to delay administering second doses, in a shift from its original strategy.

The country is the sole European Union member using Russian and Chinese vaccines that have not yet been approved by the bloc’s drug regulator.

Mr Orban said the rate of vaccines allowed the government to ease restrictions, vowing to inoculate the country before other EU states.

“In one month we increased the number of vaccinated by 2.5 times, hence from tomorrow shops can reopen,” he said.

“Hungary can be, and will be, the European country where vaccines reach everyone the fastest.”

Last month the nationalist premier said restrictions could be eased once 2.5 million vaccine doses were administered, including reopening non-essential shops and services.

A curfew in place since November will also be relaxed to start at 10pm instead of 8pm.

Shops and services, which have been shut since March 8, can reopen Wednesday as long as premises host no more than one customer per 10 square metres.

Schools can also reopen April 19 if all teachers are vaccinated by then, although hotels and restaurants will remain closed.

Critics have accused Mr Orban of trumpeting Hungary’s vaccination rate while downplaying the country’s death rate per capita, with over 22,000 dead in a population of 9.8 million.

Although the country’s coronavirus statistics have improved this month, some experts have warned that reopening services before the population is sufficiently vaccinated risks setting off a fresh wave of infections.

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