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A healthcare worker at a covid-19 testing site in Budapest A healthcare worker at a covid-19 testing site in Budapest 

Hungary introduces covid restrictions amid surge in cases

Hungary has announced its strictest measures to date to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic amid a dramatic uptick in hospitalizations and deaths. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán explained the the steps as Europe rushes to curb the spread of Covid-19.

By Stefan J. Bos

Orbán told his nation that restrictions to fight the coronavirus pandemic include a new curfew between 8 p.m and 5 a.m. Only those commuting to work are exempted from the nightly lockdown. Businesses, he said, must close after 7 p.m. Restaurants will be limited to home delivery, sporting events will be held in empty stadiums, and family gatherings are limited to 10 people. 

Authorities will also introduce a general ban on events. Universities and high schools will transition to online education. Still, preschools, kindergartens, and classes for children 14 and under will remain open. 

Healthcare workers, teachers, and childcare workers will be tested weekly for the virus. The newest restrictions start Tuesday midnight and remain in place for 30 days, after which they may be extended. 

Hungary's Parliament was due to pass a measure on Tuesday, which will enact a state of emergency for 90 days. Prime minister Orban, who faces elections in 2022, resisted doctors and opposition politicians' calls for more shutdowns to protect the economy.

Europe struggling 

But he said the rapidly rising number of COVID-19 left him no other choice. "The epidemic is still on the rise in Europe. Since the beginning of the epidemic, 109,000 people in Hungary and eight million people in Europe have become infected." 

He explained that Hungary expects a similar situation as in neighboring Austria within two weeks. Orbán added: "Although we have equipped the hospitals and everything is available, beds, ventilators, masks, protective equipment, our doctors, and nurses are doing superhuman work. But they are also human, and their numbers are not unlimited. On top is there are several weeks left before the vaccine arrives." 

And he warned: "If the number of infections increases at the current rate, our doctors and nurses and hospitals will not be able to cope with the pressure."

The measures come after a week of record-breaking hospitalizations and deaths. Authorities said that on Saturday, 107 people died of COVID-19, the highest daily total since the start of the pandemic. 

Hungary's total death toll was approaching 2,500 on a population of some 10 million people. Most of those who passed away were older people with underlying health conditions. 

Hungary is the latest among European nations struggling to cope with a new wave of coronavirus infections, causing misery and deaths worldwide. 

Elsewhere in Europe, Portugal entered a new state of emergency to fight rising infections, imposing curfews, while Britain tightened travel restrictions from Denmark, where outbreaks have been connected to mink farms. 

Listen to the report by Stefan Bos

 

09 November 2020, 18:36