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Hungary has highest COVID death rate despite leading EU in vaccines

By ZOLTAN SIMON AND MACIEJ MARTEWICZ | Bloomberg | Published: March 24, 2021

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Hungary is the planet's deadliest place for coronavirus right now despite the government rolling out vaccines quicker than almost any other European Union state.

The country has registered 151.4 deaths per million people in the past seven days, the highest globally, data compiled by Bloomberg showed. At the same time, it trails only Malta within the EU for inoculation, offering five shots, including Russia's Sputnik V and China's Sinopharm, which the bloc's regulators haven't yet approved.

As frustrated citizens across the continent push back against repeated lockdown extensions in the run-up to Easter, Hungary's predicament may offer a lesson: A rapid vaccination program can't peg back the pandemic without harsh restrictions on daily life to accompany it.

Doctors in the eastern European nation are calling for more severe curbs after hospitals appealed to volunteers to help, even if they don't have medical training. So far, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has only extended existing measures like the closing of most stores by a week and has discussed easing, rather than tightening, what's already in place.

The virus is "breathing down our necks and yet we feel that a significant portion of public opinion and decision-makers just don't get how serious the problem is," Tamas Sved of the Hungarian Chamber of Doctors told the HVG news website.

Hungary's government meets Wednesday to discuss virus measures, including for next month's Easter holiday.

The picture across most of the EU's east is bleak. Nine of the countries with the highest mortality rates are located in the region, with the Czech Republic and Bosnia completing the top three.

Poland, the EU's biggest eastern economy, reported a record number of new cases and daily deaths on Wednesday and is set to announce new pandemic restrictions lasting two weeks on Thursday.

The government has already closed schools, shopping malls and cinemas after reopening them in February. But the country of 38 million last week surpassed 2 million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, and hospitalizations hit record levels on Saturday.

"We have to curb this third wave and that's why we're going to be introducing new restrictions," Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said.