Hungary Races Up EU Vaccine Leaderboard as Virus Deaths Soar

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Hungary has raced to become one of the European Union’s leaders in Covid-19 vaccinations as the country struggles to contain a worsening epidemic that has produced one of the worst mortality rates in the world.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban severely tightened curbs, closing schools and nearly all retail outlets from Monday. The lockdown, along with a fresh batch of worsening virus data, dashed initial government plans for a quick vaccination campaign to avert a third wave of the virus.

Hungary jumped to second place in vaccinations per capita in the EU, behind tiny Malta. With more than 1 million jabs, Hungary has administered 13.2 doses per 100 people, compared with the trading bloc’s average of 9.1. The gains were propelled by hundreds of thousands of Chinese and Russian shots, which haven’t been approved in the EU and which drew criticism from some member states for the bloc’s unity.

At home, Hungarians are facing the yearlong pandemic’s highest daily infections over the weekend, with reports of hospitals struggling to keep up with the influx of coronavirus patients. The surge was seemingly a surprise for the government, which recently had been discussing easing previous curbs.

Hungary has the third-highest Covid-19 fatality rate in the world after Mexico and Peru and is in fourth place in deaths per capita after the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom and Italy, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

While Hungary doesn’t break down data for intensive-care units, the government reported that a record 806 people are on ventilators, double the number from two weeks ago. It plans to triple the number of available ICU beds, Chief Medical Officer Cecilia Muller said at a briefing on Monday.

The worsening outbreak is creating an opening for the opposition, which plans to unify for next year’s election for the first time since Orban swept to power in 2010. After three landslide victories for the ruling party, the majority of polls this year show it consistently behind.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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