BUDAPEST, Hungary – (AP) – Hungary has vaccinated more of its population than any other country in the European Union, according to an EU agency, but it remains one of the world’s worst per capita COVID-19 deaths.
According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, the Central European country has given at least a first dose of a vaccine to 21.6% of its population, just before the small island nation of Malta and 12.3% above the average of the 27-person bloc.
However, Hungary’s high vaccination rate, a product of a sourcing strategy that secured doses from China and Russia in addition to the EU-supplied doses, failed to curb the surge in the pandemic, which has caused the highest two-week death rate per year, in the world Johns Hopkins University.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban criticized the speed with which EU vaccines were introduced and urged his country to break the bloc and sign vaccination deals with the Eastern countries. Hungary was the first country in the EU to approve China’s vaccines against Sinopharm and Russia against Sputnik V, increasing supply and making it an EU leader in the number of doses distributed per capita.
“We are in a very good position, at the top of the queue, and both the Russians and the Chinese are delivering on time,” Orban said in a radio interview on Friday.
Last week, Hungary granted emergency approval to two more vaccines – Convidecia, a vaccine made by the Chinese company CanSino Biologics, and Covishield, a version of the India-made AstraZeneca EU vaccine.
But while officials have insisted that only rapid vaccine deployment can end the pandemic – Orban said Friday that “vaccination is our primary, our only means of repelling the virus” – Hungary’s reputation could not mitigate a third wave that has led to record breaking new cases and deaths.
As of Monday, more than 20,000 people had died from coronavirus-related causes in the country of fewer than 10 million people, making it the third worst per capita death rate in the world.
While other countries in the region have put tight lockdown measures in place to control their own fluctuations, Hungary released plans over the weekend to relax pandemic restrictions in the coming days despite the rising numbers to help the economy in a country with a 5.1 to re-accelerate decline in GDP by% last year.
“I have no doubt that we will have a summer of freedom in Hungary,” Orban said on Friday.
According to the plans, published in the government gazette on Saturday, unneeded stores will be allowed to reopen with capacity restrictions and an overnight curfew, which has been in place since November, will be shortened by two hours. The new measures will take effect once 2.5 million people have received an initial dose of a vaccine, announced a minister who is expected to kick in next week.