Hungary’s Covid-19 Deaths Pass 10,000 in Challenge to Orban

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Hungary’s coronavirus death toll surpassed 10,000 as fatalities spiraled during the pandemic’s autumn and winter surge, posing a challenge for Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s quest to clinch a fifth term in elections next year.

The eastern European country registered 103 deaths on Monday, taking overall Covid-19 related fatalities to 10,080, according to government data published on Tuesday. Deaths jumped after an explosion in contagion following a summer lull and as Orban delayed tough virus curbs despite warnings from doctors about a “health catastrophe.”

Hungary has the third-highest number of deaths as a share of the population in the European Union, according to the rolling 14-day average reported by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control on Dec. 30.

Opposition politicians argue that the toll may be higher, citing significant discrepancies between reported virus-related fatalities and excess deaths in 2020 compared with previous years. Hungary had the highest number of monthly deaths in November in more than 20 years, with fatalities rising 52% from the year-ago period, according to the Hungarian statistics office.

Orban has defended the government’s record, telling state radio on Sunday that Hungary “succeeded in restraining” the virus’s second wave and avoided excess deaths seen in countries where the health-care system was overwhelmed by patients.

Until recently, the nationalist leader had appeared politically unassailable after consolidating power over the past decade in ways that have triggered EU scrutiny over the suspected erosion of the rule of law. But frustration over the government’s response to the damage to lives and the economy has sapped Orban’s support.

Five of the past six opinion polls have shown that opposition parties that have united in a bid to oust Orban in the 2022 parliamentary elections have overtaken his ruling Fidesz party. The opposition is now vying to capitalize on gains against Fidesz in 2019 municipal elections -- Orban’s worst electoral setback in a decade -- when a partial alliance of the premier’s opponents forced the party out of power in Budapest and other key cities.

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