Budapest, Hungary – Hungary will receive the first shipments of coronavirus vaccine in December or January, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said during an interview with public broadcaster Kossuth Radio, and would be able to “declare victory over the pandemic” by spring 2021.
Although none of the COVID-19 vaccine currently under trial has yet been clinically approved for mass production and distribution, the Premier claimed that Hungary could receive two or three different vaccines by the beginning of next year, including from Russia or China.
Orban also said that he had asked the government’s crisis cell to draw up a vaccination plan, and that the elderly and vulnerable people suffering from chronic illnesses would be the first to receive the vaccine.
Almost 200 vaccines are being developed worldwide, according to Reuters, and the first of them could reach late-stage trials before the end of 2020.
“The key is to obey the existing rules […] and that masks must be worn”, Orban added as he faces growing criticism, including from members of his majority, for not doing enough to slow down the spread of the virus despite soaring cases.
For now, the Hungarian Prime Minister only said that fines for not respecting mask-wearing regulations would be increased, and that police would be given the authority to close down shops and restaurants if needed.
Critics have argued that Orban is trying to play down the seriousness of the public health crisis in order to avoid another strict lockdown, which would be devastating for the Hungarian economy and could hurt his chances for the next general elections in 2022.
The Hungarian Medical Chamber has urged the government to take additional measures and to tighten mask-wearing rules and shop opening times.
Schools and stores still operate more or less normally, while mass events, including football matches drawing large crowds of supporters, have not been banned.
Other Central European countries, including the Czech Republic and Slovakia, have all imposed full or partial lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 and ease pressure on their strained healthcare sector.
Although Hungary’s death toll of nearly 1,889 since the start of the pandemic remains much lower than other countries in Europe, the second wave appears much more serious than the first one, with more people having died from COVID-19 over the past month alone than from March to September.