Hungary's government imposed tough new restrictions on March 4 to curb rapidly rising coronavirus infection numbers. All shops, except for food stores, pharmacies, and petrol stations will be closed between March 8 and March 22. Until now companies in the service sector were allowed to remain open, but that will change from Monday. Kindergartens and primary schools will be closed for a month until April 7, the end of the Easter break.
Without tighter restrictions more people will die and it will take longer to lift restrictions, cabinet chief Gergely Gulyas told the press at the weekly briefing.
The pandemic is spreading fast and its reproduction rate in Hungary is one of the highest in Europe, he added.
Mask-wearing will be mandatory outdoors and Hungary will impose tighter controls on its borders, but freight and transit traffic will not be restricted.
The COVID-19 taskforce will unveil details on Friday.
The announcement came on the day of record daily infections at 6278, while fatalities reached 153. On this date a year ago, the first cases were registered. Two Iranian medical students tested positive.
Since then more than 446,000 contracted the virus and 15476 have died. This ranks Hungary the 9th globally per 100,000 inhabitants. In terms of new infections and fatalities, Hungary is amongst the worst-performing countries in the past few weeks.
Medical officials are worried about the rapid rise of patients needing medical treatment. The figure has risen by 1,000 to 6,550 in just two weeks. Epidemiologists raised the alarm bell a few weeks ago that Hungary will see deteriorating numbers due to the spread of the UK variant similar to its peers, yet the government had failed to act.
Hungarian lawmakers voted to extend the government's state-of-emergency powers for 90 days, but no new restrictions were put in place in addition to measures already introduced on November 11. Shopping malls and service companies were allowed to remain open as well as casinos, owned by businessmen close to Viktor Orban.
Hungary’s chief medical officer announced in mid-February that the third wave had hit Hungary, just as the government launched the national consultation survey to ask Hungarians on the timing of the reopening.
The cabinet’s position on reopening gradually changed and comments by ministers and health officials suggested that the government would impose restrictions. Independent media site 444 recalls the similarities before the second wave, which had hit Hungary hard.
At the end of August 100 people were hospitalised for COVID-19, but four months later some 8,000. In the first days of September, 1-2 people died of the pandemic but by mid-December, the number shot up to near 200.