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Hungarian doctors warn of ‘sad Christmas’ as COVID cases soar

by Jessica Weisman-Pitts
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By Krisztina Than

BUDAPEST (Reuters) -Hungary reported 10,265 new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, its highest daily tally since the end of March, prompting the country’s Medical Chamber to call for a ban on mass events and mandatory mask wearing in closed spaces.

In a statement, the Hungarian Medical Chamber also said entry to restaurants, theatres and cinemas should be conditional on a COVID-19 immunity certificate.

“We must slow down the increase in the number of patients, a flooding of hospitals (with COVID-19 patients) or many families will have a very sad Christmas,” they said.

“Apart from a slowing vaccination campaign, we have not seen any preventive measures (to contain the pandemic).”

The daily tally is getting close to the peak of 11,265 reached during the third wave of the pandemic in a country with hardly any restrictions in place and where the vaccination rate is below the European Union average.

A new wave of infections has swept across Central Europe with hospitals struggling to cope in some countries like neighbouring Romania. Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland have all tightened rules on mask wearing and introduced measures to curb infections.

In Hungary, the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is facing a close election in early 2022, has urged people to take up vaccines and announced mandatory inoculations at state institutions. It also empowered private companies to make vaccinations mandatory for employees.

But it has refrained from making mask wearing mandatory in closed spaces – apart from on public transport and in hospitals – and there are no other restrictions in place.

On Tuesday, the government said it was monitoring cases, and “if necessary will take further measures”.

The government has not replied to emailed Reuters questions.

Hungary, a country of 10 million, has reported 32,514 deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic but only 5.78 million of its people are fully vaccinated. More than 1.66 million people have received a booster shot.

(Reporting by Krisztina Than and Anita Komuves; Editing by Toby Chopra, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Giles Elgood)