Majority of Hungarians happy with vaccine strategy

Restrictions to stay for non-vaccinated till August

Coronavirus-related restrictions will remain in place for Hungarians without immunity certificates until August, the prime minister's chief of staff told a government press briefing on Thursday. Gergely Gulyas said the certificates would continue to be required to attend concerts and festivals, use restaurant or hotel services and to participate in sports events "during the coming months".

Gulyas said Hungarians returning from other countries no longer need to isolate if they have the certificate, adding that the measure was being extended to minors in their company.

Vaccination continues to be free and voluntary, with appointments available online for AstraZeneca, Sinopharm and Sputnik V. Moderna and Pfizer will be administered as they arrive, he said, adding that the 330,000 doses scheduled to arrive next week will be set aside for 16-18 year olds as well as for second jabs.

Thanks to its vaccination drive, Hungary has been able to break out of the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic and become the first country in Europe “to regain its freedom”, Gulyas said.

Some one million people, about 80 percent of those registered, have already received at least the first jab, he noted.

The minister said that nearly 2 million first shots were administered in the past four weeks, with 53 percent of the adult-age population now innoculated.

Reopening the country continues apace, and services suspended since March are now available to certificate holders, Gulyas said. The government’s national consultation on reopening the country shows that some 65 percent of the 500,000 respondents backed the immunity certificate bringing certain advantages, he said.

Regarding international debates on the efficacy of vaccines, Gulyas said it was “easy to see the business interests behind certain opinions posing as professional arguments.”

Hungary has subjected all vaccines to rigorous scrutiny, and “everyone can rest assured all available vaccines are safe and effective,” he said.

Gulyas slammed the leftist opposition for “heading the effort to sow uncertainty” regarding certain types of vaccine. That argument “amounts to the same thing as completely rejecting vaccination,” in that non-vaccinated people are exposed to the coronavirus, he said.

Currently countries only accept their own certificates automatically, Gulyas said. But Hungary is striving to conclude as many bilateral agreements on the matter as possible, he added. Countries entering into such agreements will accept all vaccines used in Hungary, he said. “Southern states have made it clear they would allow everyone to enter” in the summer, Gulyas insisted.

Regarding the 2022 draft budget which the government submitted to parliament this week, Gulyas said it aimed to give a shot in the arm to economic growth. The document calculates with a 5.2 percent growth, a 5.9 percent deficit target with state debt at 79.3 percent of GDP, he noted.

The economy is expected to reach pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year, and the government hopes to maintain growth in 2022, Gulyas said.

Hungary’s frugal and conservative economic policy which “refrained from devouring the future”, has been successful, he insisted, adding that the public debt has been successfully reduced, Gulyas said.

Supporting families continues to be a priority, he said. The pension bonus will be gradually reinstated, Hungarians under 25 will be exempt from the PIT, and tax burdens on labour will continue to decline along with support of investment and job creation, he said.

The government has set aside 7,300 billion forints for the purpose of re-launching the economy, he said, adding that hopefully the economy would “return to normality” swiftly after the pandemic.

The health-care system is also seeing a new era, Gulyas said. Government measures have eliminated gratuity payments and substantially raised doctors’ wages, he said. The 2022 budget is allocating 769 billion forints (EUR 2.1bn) more to the sector than last year’s, nearly doubling government spending on health-care in 11 years, he said.

Gulyas said the government has decided to hand over 23 billion forints to local councils to make up for revenues lost due to tax cuts for small and medium-size businesses. Fully 1.7 billion forints of this sum is tied to the refurbishment of creches, schools, and other cultural facilities.

Gulyas insisted the decision was “not politically motivated”, adding that the richest municipalities would receive development funds but no central subsidies for their operations. Councils that are less rich will receive 75 percent of revenues lost to the cut to local business taxes, while the poorest councils will be get a full refund.

Answering a question, Gulyas said that a left-wing proposal to ban the Sputnik and Sinopharm vaccines was still before parliament. “Regrettably, the left wing is fomenting mistrust rather than promoting vaccination,” he said.

Asked if the government was planning to arrange for a third dose of the Sinopharm vaccine, Gulyas said that allegation that the vaccine did not provide sufficient protection to the elderly was groundless. Referring to tests conducted by Semmelweis University, he said the level of antibodies generated by Sinopharm was “several hundred times higher” than that of someone who had recovered from Covid-19. “A third dose of the Chinese vaccine, contrary to some rumours, is needless.” He insisted that there was no substantive difference between the vaccines. “The ratio of those becoming ill after the second dose is extremely low,” he said.

Asked about Hungary’s 28,000 Covid-related deaths, Gulyas said last year’s figures put Hungary “in midfield” in the European Union. “It’ll probably be the same this year, too.” “Criticising the extraordinary efforts of doctors and nurses is not right, nor is it ethical to use the issue of deaths to wage a political campaign.”

Asked when the number of inoculated would reach 5 million, Gulyas said the country had sufficient vaccines in place and the goal could be achieved “before the end of this week”, though, he added, this may only be achieved later in the month. The number of people in Hungary who have registered stands at around 5 million, he said.

Gulyas said Hungary could “return to normalcy” by the summer unless a new virus mutation resistant to all available vaccines emerged. He noted that normal health services were being resumed, with screening programmes under way. The ban on hospital visits may be lifted once 5 million people have been vaccinated, he said.

Regarding vaccine certificates, Gulyas said the plastic cards were being issued to people inoculated in Hungary irrespective of their nationality.

Asked whether the government was planning to offer a cash reward to people volunteering for vaccination, similarly to a practice in Serbia, he said this would not be necessary. “It’s more important to raise the awareness that the shot saves lives … and having a certificate involves enhanced rights”.

In response to a question, Gulyas said the government would soon come to a decision on a proposal to invalidate the immunity certificates of those who do not get the second vaccine dose. On another subject, he said last week’s cyberattack against the government’s website for booking vaccination appointments was being investigated by the authorities.

Asked about Budapest’s operations, Gulyas said he believed Mayor Gergely Karacsony was using his office as a “springboard” for higher office. Traffic congestion is becoming more and more common, he said, adding that there was also more rubbish and homeless people on the streets of Budapest than before. “It would be nice if the metropolitan council took the time to address these serious issues as well,” he said.

Asked if the government would help finance wage increases at companies run by the metropolitan council, Gulyas said Budapest was Hungary’s richest locality. The city’s GDP per capita is 151 percent of the EU average, while there are other localities where this indicator barely exceeds 60 percent, he added.

Budapest has reserves of around 120 billion forints, and though a lot of that is tied up in future projects, it remains true that no other local council has that much room for manoeuvre, Gulyas said.

Asked about the construction of the Budapest campus of China’s Fudan University, Gulyas said the government was prepared to declare the project a priority investment. The government has made a clear decision to build both a student’s quarter and the Fudan campus in Budapest’s 9th district, he said.

Asked if there were any ideological aspects to the structural transformation of Hungary’s higher education system, Gulyas said: “If one considers it an ideological aspect to have nationally minded people in the supervisory boards of national institutions, then yes, but partisan political ideology played no part in the selection of those board members.”

Meanwhile, citing seasonally adjusted data, Gulyas said employment in Hungary was now higher than it had been two years ago. The most important thing, he said, was for service-sector workers to be able to resume working fulltime. He said that if the service sector were able to recover to its 2019 levels, Hungary could again see record employment figures.

Asked about the upcoming debate of the future of the EU, Gulyas said Hungary will participate in it because while it believes that there is no alternative to institutionalised European cooperation, it does not want a “united states of Europe”. Migration, for instance, is an issue on which member states should act independently, he said.

Asked about Ukraine’s aspirations to join the EU and NATO, Gulyas said that until Ukraine changed its language law, Hungary would continue to block its dialogue with NATO. It would do the same in the case of the EU, he said, adding at the same time that there was “no realistic chance” of Ukraine joining the EU in the foreseeable future.

Majority of Hungarians happy with vaccine strategy

Fully 72 percent of Hungarians are satisfied with the government’s coronavirus vaccine procurement strategy, a survey conducted by the Centre for Fundamental Rights released on Thursday shows.

The telephone survey of 1,000 adults conducted in late April indicates that 60 percent of respondents measured the government’s success in terms of the fact that three quarters of people who had registered to be vaccinated had received a jab at the time of the survey.

Only 6 percent regarded the European Union as being responsible for Hungary’s high vaccination rate, the think tank said.

Fully 20 percent thought the pace of vaccinations could be higher while 18 percent were unimpressed by the government’s vaccine-related measures.

Leave a Reply