Following a marked ease in the grip of the pandemic during the summer months, official data published at the end of August showed that the country is entering the fourth wave of the pandemic as the spread of the Delta variant picked up speed. Authorities reported a 79% increase compared to the previous period and the impact of the new school year – which started this week – has yet to manifest itself in the numbers.
Hungary is on the brink of the fourth wave of the pandemic as confirmed by the words of chief medical officer Cecília Müller, who stressed in a recent television interview that “We are on the verge of the fourth wave.” Health authorities registered more than 1,000 new Covid cases in Hungary last week, a 79% jump from the previous seven days. In the last week, an average of 182 new cases of coronavirus were reported in Hungary a day and the trend is disquieting as it shows that the spread of infections is gaining speed. At the current weekly rate of 40% rise, the daily number of cases may hit a new peak in November, not to mention the fact that the epidemic tends to intensify in the autumn. The number of people treated in hospital has also started to rise sharply in the last seven days.
Delta variant a might enemy
Similarly to other European countries, the Delta variant of the virus is spreading at alarming speed. Müller noted that 90% of Covid infections in the country are caused by this variant. Continuously emerging medical data show that while vaccination will not shield people from contracting the disease, the vaccines are highly effective against hospitalization from the Delta variant. A report published by the UK health authorities highlights that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 96% effective against hospitalization after 2 doses while the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is 92% effective against hospitalization after 2 doses. Meanwhile a study published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the US has shown that the effectiveness of the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines dropped from 91% before the Delta variant became dominant, to 66%. The report's authors said there were a number of possible explanations, including that protection from vaccines could be waning over time, and the 66 % estimate was based on a relatively short study period in which there were few infections. "Although these interim findings suggest a moderate reduction in the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines in preventing infection, the sustained two-thirds reduction in infection risk underscores the continued importance and benefits of Covid-19 vaccination," the authors said.
Meanwhile, Hungarian health authorities warned that the school year, which began this week, will most likely have a negative impact on the number of infections. This impact, however, will only be captured a week later.
Decline in the rate of vaccinations
Despite a strong start earlier this year, the rate of vaccinations has slowed alarmingly in recent weeks and Hungary’s continues to slip behind other countries of the European Union. Experts have warned repeatedly that Hungary seems to have hit a ceiling when it comes to vaccinations, which is a bad omen for the future spread of the virus. During the second week of July, Hungary's vaccination rate fell below the European Union average for the first time. By August 31, 67.5% of people over 18 had received at least one shot (5.4 million people), compared with the EU's average of 75.9%. Even though this puts Hungary ahead of all former Eastern Bloc countries and even Greece, the gap is widening – Hungary is last in proportion of people newly vaccinated, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). Hungary's rate of new vaccinations increased by a negligible 0.3% over the past week, trailing Bulgaria and Romania, the two least vaccinated countries in the EU.
The Hungarian Medical Chamber warned that preventive measures should again be reintroduced. The Chamber noted that many Hungarians perceived that things could return to normal after the relaxation of previous restrictions. They stressed that despite vaccinations, international experience indicates that even those who are vaccinated are still at risk. The organization urged the public to remain vigilant and to take precautions by keeping a safe distance, wearing masks in closed spaces, and following the rules for handwashing and hand disinfection.
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