Photo: MTI

500,000 Chinese vaccines to arrive next week

Government to introduce immunity certificate

The government has decided to introduce certificates of immunity from Covid for people who have been inoculated against or recovered from the disease, the prime minister's chief of staff said.

The certificate will be issued to people who have received the second shot of the vaccine, indicating the date on which the second jab was administered, Gergely Gulyas told a weekly press briefing. The document will not have an expiry date as there is not enough information available as to how long immunity lasts after a person has been vaccinated, he said.

Further, another kind of certificate will note relevant dates such as a recovered Covid patient’s release from hospital or the tenth day after their first positive PCR test result.

Both kinds of certificate will be provided free of charge, he said.

Alternatively, a certificate based on results from a certified laboratory will be valid for four months after the lab results are issued, Gulyas said, adding that in this case applicants will be charged a fee for the document.

“We hope this document, too, will help get things back to normal as soon as possible,” he said, adding that the government had yet to decide what sort of exemptions certificate-holders will be entitled to.

Meanwhile, Gulyas said Hungary expects to take delivery of the first shipment of China’s Sinopharm vaccine next week. The first batch will contain 500,000 doses, he said, adding that Hungary’s public health authority is yet to assess the vaccine.

Sor far, more than 30 million people have been inoculated with the Sinopharm vaccine worldwide, including ethnic Hungarians living in Serbia, he said.

Gulyas noted that Hungary is also set to receive 200,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine this month.

He said that although the rollout of the jabs procured by the European Union was still taking too long, next week Hungary expects to resume inoculating people in the oldest age group as well as those under the age of 60 with chronic illnesses. Vaccinations will also resume at social institutions where they had to be suspended, he added.

Gulyas noted that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has conceded that mistakes were made with the planning of the EU’s Covid vaccine strategy and the rollout of the jabs.

Meanwhile, Gulyas said that more than 300,000 people will have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in Hungary by the end of Thursday. Altogether 294,624 people received their first Covid shots by Wednesday and more than 117,000 have been fully inoculated, he said.

Some 30,000 elderly people will be inoculated by their general practitioners using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, Gulyas said. Meanwhile, those without chronic illnesses under the age of 75 will be inoculated using the Sputnik V jab at hospitals, he said.

People below the age of 60 with chronic illnesses are also being inoculated using the AstraZeneca vaccine, he added.

The government is in talks with more vaccine manufacturers “and the reason why we need to procure vaccines from every possible source is to ensure that life can get back to normal as quickly as possible”, he said.

Hungary has also asked the EU to speed up its vaccine deliveries, which the commission has promised to do, Gulyas said.

The PM’s chief of staff also said that though Hungary had got the second wave of the pandemic under control thanks to its restrictions introduced on Nov. 11, the pandemic was now in a phase of stagnation while the rest of Europe was experiencing a third wave.

The UK variant of the virus is spreading more easily in Hungary as well, he said, adding that this could lead to another uptick in cases.

Meanwhile, government spokeswoman Alexandra Szentkiralyi said the government has earmarked the necessary funding for its latest National Consultation public survey concerning when to lift coronavirus restrictions.

The survey will be accessible online at the website in a few days, she said, urging the public to fill it out.

Last year, the government also used the results of a nationwide survey to shape the response measures that have been in effect since November, Szentkiralyi said.

Concerning the economy, Gulyas said the government has speeded up payments of wage subsidies to companies, adding that employers have applied for a total 40 billion forints, of which the government officies so far approved nearly 36 billion forints and paid out 35.5 billion.

Asked about a proposal by the opposition Socialist Party to give 10,000 forint (EUR 28) vouchers to those who get themselves vaccinated, Gulyas noted that the vaccines are purchased using public funds and are administered free of charge. “The demand that people who receive an expensive vaccine for free be given money defies common sense,” he said, adding that the proposal, however, was “only one-tenth as insane” as the opposition Momentum Movement’s suggestion that people be given 100,000 forints.

Concerning a decision by several local councils to ease their rules on mask-wearing, Gulyas said it was their job to determine what kinds of rules were necessary, adding that the government respected these decisions.

He said the government is expected to decide on a potential easing of lockdown measures in two weeks’ time based on the results of the National Consultation public survey and case numbers.

In response to a question, Gulyas said members of government members would receive their Covid shots after those over the age of 60 have been inoculated, with the exception of government members who are older.

Gulyas rejected reports that Hungary’s government representative in the EU had been involved in the bloc’s vaccine procurement process. Hungary’s delegate, Miklos Szocska, was only briefed on the plan but the procurement of the vaccines was handled by the European Commission, he said.

Asked about EC President Ursula von der Leyen’s remark that the commission could not afford to lower its standards regarding the required quality of the vaccines it approves, Gulyas said a “normal” authority, government or international organisation “wouldn’t approve a vaccine that isn’t safe and hasn’t been tested”. Several countries are using vaccines that have not yet been approved by the EU and there can be no doubt that they, too, want their citizens to be protected against the virus, he said, adding that those countries were doing better in terms of vaccinating their populations.

In response to a question, Gulyas said the reopening of the borders was expected to be the last step in the process of lifting Hungary’s lockdown measures, even though every country has an interest in restarting the tourism industry.

Asked about government compensation for local councils affected by lower business tax revenues, Gulyas said he was scheduled to soon meet the mayors of county-seat cities.

Asked if the government supported the Budapest municipality’s package aimed at rebooting the hospitality industry after restrictions are lifted, Gulyas said the municipal council was “on the right track” but the package “is only a small step”. The government is preparing several measures aimed at helping the sector in addition to waiving the rent payable to the state or local council for premises, he said.

In response to another question, Gulyas said the consumer protection authority has launched an investigation into the practices of the International Vaccination Centre after it was revealed that it had accepted downpayments for Covid vaccines that it did not have in stock.

He said that under the most optimistic scenario regarding the vaccination campaign, more than two million people could be inoculated by the end of March provided that all of the scheduled vaccine shipments are delivered on time.

On another subject, Gulyas dismissed as “fake news” media reports that Budapest would only be given 700 million forints in EU funds in the 2021-27 funding cycle. Budapest will receive up to 1,000 billion forints in development funds, he said, adding that the capital had been allocated more than 20 percent of the available funds in the previous cycle.

Concerning a letter by the mayor of Budapest, Gergely Karacsony, urging consultations between municipalities and the central government over utilisation of European recovery funds, Gulyas said that the government was “planning the next development cycle in cooperation with local governments”. He added that the mayor has the power “to convene the Municipal Public Developments Council at any time”.

Gulyas said the government “had nothing to do” with the decision to strip commercial Klubradio of its broadcast licence, noting that the matter had been decided in court based on violations “that not even Klubradio contested”. “All such cases offer an opportunity for defamation … against Hungary,” he added.

On the subject of an initiative by the Hungarian Olympic Committee to bid to hold the Summer Olympics in Hungary in 2032, Gulyas denied the government had anything to do with it.

Concerning planned regulations of social media, Gulyas said the aim was to keep Facebook users’ personal data safe and ensure that the right to limit freedom of speech lay exclusively with the state. He also welcomed Facebook’s payment of 3.8 billion forints in advertising tax to the central budget in 2017-18 as “a great achievement”.

On the subject of higher education, he noted that a bill concerning changes to the operational structure of universities will be tabled in parliament in the spring.

On the topic of delinquencies in national insurance contribution payments, Gulyas said people with six months of arrears have been offered the chance to pay them in instalments, but those who don’t take up the opportunity before the Feb. 12 deadline will be stripped of their national insurance numbers that entitle them to free health care. Around 70,000 people have fallen behind with their payments, while “several tens of thousands” have now settled their debt.

Gulyas said that a contract with Budapest’s prestigious Gundel restaurant under which Gundel provided daily meals to the prime minister’s offices had been terminated by the restaurant rather than the government, adding that in future the Hungarian army will provide the relevant catering.

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