Budapest, Hungary (AP) – Hungarians on Monday woke up to a new round of blockades aimed at slowing the record wave of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, some of the worst in the world.
The rapid rise in epidemics since early February has prompted the Hungarian government to announce new restrictions, including closing most shops for two weeks – kindergartens and primary schools – by April 7. employees to work from home. Grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and tobacco shops may be open.
Hungary’s high schools have been undergoing distance learning since November, after which its bars, restaurants and gyms also closed.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has warned that the overcrowding of the country’s hospitals will soon exceed any other period since the start of the Hungarian epidemic, adding that austerity measures will now lead to a “tragedy”.
“The next two weeks will be difficult … but if we want to open by Easter, we have to close,” Orban said in a Facebook video on Friday.
The number of patients with air conditioners in Hungarian hospitals has doubled in the last two weeks. 806 patients on Monday, compared to the previous 674 peak in early December.
Deaths have also risen sharply. According to the University of Hopkins Million ounces, Hungary has the 8th worst mortality rate in the world per 1 million population, out of less than 10 million countries with almost 16,000 deaths. The number of COVID-19 patients being treated in hospitals is also likely to break its previous record on Tuesday.
“We can see that the third wave is spreading very strongly, mainly due to (virus) variants,” Cecilia Mueller, Hungary’s chief medical officer, said on Sunday. “Now we can do nothing but break the chain of infections.”
The new restrictions came at a time when many Hungarian companies were already struggling to make ends meet as buyers were left at home due to pending cases. Hungarian Oltan Szutton, co-founder and owner of the Hungarian fashion brand Griff Collection, says revenue has fallen by 70% in the winter thanks to cautious consumers avoiding crowds in shopping malls.
“I can not pay the rent. “I can not pay salaries or social security contributions, not to mention taxes,” said Suto, adding that the 50% commercial tax exemption offered by the government means very little in the absence of income.
The economic downturn caused by last year’s epidemic, which resulted in a 5.1% drop in Hungary’s GDP, led to the closure of five of the 10 stores in the Hungarian Griff Collection, which employ about 80 people. Suto says his business lost 200-300 million Hungarian forts ($ 645,000-968,000) in 2020, and that the crisis will only deepen if the two-week closing, which begins on Monday, is extended.
Such economic pain has forced the Hungarian government, which is awaiting elections next year, still unwilling to restrict business, even as COVID-19 cases and deaths have risen since early February.
Many parents messed up on the weekends to change their work schedule to take care of their children, including Gոնngiver and Silard Brasyon, a Budapest couple who have two young daughters.
“We are lucky that my parents are coming to help us with their children,” said Gոնnger, adding that his parents live in Serbia, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe, and have already received two shots of the vaccine.
Szilard, who works from home, said they felt “exhausted” after raising the children for a year during the epidemic. But he was optimistic that Hungary’s ambitious vaccination program, which has given more than 1 million Hungarians the vaccine, the second highest level of vaccine in the 27-nation bloc, would soon bring life back to normal.
Hungary has acquired vaccines from Russia and China, as well as EU-approved vaccines.
“We are really looking forward to having a much safer environment for all of us,” Sillard said.
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