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Coming week is expected to be the hardest of the pandemic in Hungary yet, PM says

Orbán criticises EU’s ‘botched’ vaccine procurement

Brussels has "messed up" the procurement of coronavirus vaccines, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said on Sunday, adding that Hungary "would be in big trouble right now" had it not ordered more jabs from the East. Whereas Israel is "nearly done" vaccinating its population and the United Kingdom has inoculated 30-40 percent of its people, the average vaccination rate in the European Union stands at 6.8 percent, the prime minister told public broadcaster Kossuth Radio.

“This is a clear indication that something is not right,” Orbán said. “And this is not a political issue or accusation, nor any kind of antipathy towards EU or Brussels bureaucrats, but facts. This is how it is: they’ve messed up.”

These past weeks, the quantities of vaccine shipments ordered by the EU have either fluctuated or were not being delivered at all, he added.

Asked about plans by Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Latvia to convene an EU summit on the distribution of vaccines, Orbán said the Austrian chancellor was right to want to discuss the matter.

“Something’s not right,” he said, noting that member states had agreed that vaccines would be distributed proportionately, but it was not being done this way. “We’re seeing some countries get more and some less.”

Orbán said that had Hungary not ordered 3.5 million vaccines from China and Russia — with which it has now inoculated 500,000 people — “we’d be in big trouble right now.”

“The only reason why we’re not in trouble is because an alarm went off in our heads in November, and we entered into talks on [purchasing] other vaccines as well,” he said. Orbán added that Hungary had received criticism for this from both the Hungarian and international left, when its foreign affairs and epidemiological experts “should actually be applauded for having recognised the trouble early on and making timely decisions”.

Hungary has ordered a total of 13 million doses of Western and 3.5 million doses of Eastern vaccines, enough to inoculate 16.5 million people, Orbán said, explaining that Hungary also had to be prepared for the possibility of vaccine shortages beyond the border. “This way 16.5 million vaccines are enough to inoculate the global Hungarian population,” he added.

Orbán also said Hungary was developing a coronavirus vaccine of its own and building a vaccine plant in Debrecen, in the east. Hungary has also reached a deal with Israel to build a factory in that country, allowing it to become self-sufficient when it comes to vaccine production in a year’s time. He noted that Hungary had access to the most types of Covid jabs of all countries, adding that it was in the EU’s top league in terms of the inoculation rate.

Concerning the timeline for a potential reopening of the country, the prime minister said the biggest question was whether the vaccines currently in use would be effective against future mutant variants of the virus. “If the answer to that is ‘yes’, then we can reopen soon, but if the answer is ‘no’ then we find ourselves in a completely new situation,” he said.

Orbán said the coming week was expected to be the hardest week of the pandemic in Hungary yet.

The third wave will be stronger than the previous two, and the next period will be marked by monitoring case numbers and whether hospitals have enough equipment and staff to weather the storm as well as keeping an eye on vaccine procurement and the number of people registering to get vaccinated, Orbán said.

“The night is always darkest before the dawn,” he said.

Orbán said he will hold a video conference with “all hospital directors” on preparations to meet the onslaught.

On the topic of Hungary asking for help from abroad, Orbán said: “We seem to be doing fine, and likely to help out others ourselves.”

In proportion to its population, Hungary has the most ventilators in Europe, “and possibly the most hospital beds too”, he said. He noted a government decree published on Saturday under which senior medical students can be deployed to serve in hospitals during the emergency. He said the government had a plan in place on transferring doctors and nurses from certain regions to other, worse-hit places if necessary.

Although left-wing parties keep slamming Hungarian health care, “our doctors are strong and committed, and the nurses are doing their utmost. I think we will pull through,” Orbán said.

Meanwhile, the number of those registered for inoculation has reached 3 million, with those over 60 registering in large numbers, the prime minister said. Since that age group is particularly vulnerable, they will be brought to the top of the list even if they registered late, he added.

Orbán rejected as “sly lies” reports that Hungary’s inoculation campaign was one of the least effective among European countries. The vaccines in storage will be administered within the next days or are warehoused to serve as the second vaccine for people who have already received the first, he said.

The number of days elapsing between the two vaccines is “subject of professional discussion” and depends on the vaccine in question, he said. The matter will be decided on the basis of the consensus of international experts, he said.

On the pricing of vaccines, Orbán said Hungary “would have paid more if necessary, because it was a matter of preserving lives.”

The political left’s tendency to politicise the inoculation campaign at a time when people’s lives are at risk is a “morally unacceptable low point,” he said.

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