Hungary could announce new lockdown measures as new cases hit three-month high

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary is widely expected to announce further lockdown measures on Thursday after a surge in new coronavirus cases that pose a challenge for Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who had raised hopes of a gradual lifting of restrictions from April.

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Orban, who faces an election battle early next year, has been balancing coronavirus curbs with keeping shops and industries open to try to limit the economic effects of the pandemic, which caused a 5% recession last year.

But Hungary reported 6,278 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, its highest daily tally in three months, mainly because of a spread of the British variant of the virus.

Potential new lockdown measures include the closure of all primary schools and shops until early April, website reported on Thursday.

Gergely Gulyas, Orban’s chief of staff, holds an online briefing at 1000 GMT, where he is expected to announce the latest cabinet decisions.

Current restrictions in place since November include a night-time curfew from 1900 GMT, the closure of hotels and restaurants, a ban on all gatherings and remote learning in secondary schools.

The PSZ teachers’ union on Tuesday urged the government to launch remote learning in primary schools as infections are spreading rapidly, increasing the strain on hospitals.

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Last week Hungary became the first European Union country to start inoculating people with China’s Sinopharm vaccine after rolling out Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine although neither has been granted approval for emergency use by the bloc.

The Russian and Chinese shots are being administered along with the Pfizer-BioNTech, vaccine and shots developed by U.S. company Moderna and AstraZeneca, all of which have received the EU green light.

As of Thursday, over 785,000 people in Hungary had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The virus has infected 446,178 people in the country of 10 million and killed 15,476.

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