World’s Worst-Hit Covid Nation Hungary Plans to Ease Curbs Soon

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban vowed to ease virus curbs soon even as his nation has the world’s highest Covid-19 death rate and reported a big jump in fatalities.

With hospitals understaffed and overwhelmed, Orban nevertheless told state television on Wednesday he was sticking to his timetable to relax virus rules. The first easing steps will include reopening stores days after Easter, followed by schools and then restaurants and hotels.

World’s Worst-Hit Covid Nation Hungary Plans to Ease Curbs Soon

“Infections are widespread and lockdowns or curbs can only slow the spread but they can’t stop them,” Orban said, adding only vaccines can “kill” Covid-19.

The rapid spread of the virus is testing the resolve of governments across Europe to enact even tougher curbs to arrest the virus. Currently 10 out of the 11 countries with the highest level of fatalities as a share of population are from eastern Europe.

Orban is under fire for doing too little and too late during the third wave of the pandemic. Hungary on Wednesday reported a record 302 deaths in a single day, a 10% increase from the previous day.

“Clearly countries of the region are not imposing restrictions as soon as they should be,” said Alexandru Moise, a researcher focusing on the politics of healthcare at the European University Institute near Florence, Italy. “Any country would be overwhelmed if it would let the virus spiral out of control to this extent.”

The government in Budapest is resisting calls by doctors to implement a tighter lockdown and is instead touting its vaccination program, the second-fastest in the European Union, which Orban said allows for a gradual reopening of economy.

Poland, with the region’s biggest economy, reported a 10% increase in new cases and a 14% rise in deaths from a week ago.

Despite the grim picture across the region, some hopeful signs have emerged.

The Czech Republic may be turning the tide about a month after the government imposed the strictest lockdown measures yet, including restrictions on domestic travel. There were 8,568 new cases on Tuesday, a 22% drop from a week earlier and about half of the level a month ago.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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