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Hungary extends virus state of emergency, lockdown

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FILE PHOTO: Police officers patrol during a night-time curfew imposed by the Hungarian government to curb the spread of the coronavirus, in Budapest, Hungary, November 11, 2020. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo

Hungary on Thursday extended a coronavirus state of emergency for 90 days and partial lockdown measures until March 1, and said it would issue a decree licensing any vaccine already used on a million people.

The measures — including a curfew between 8 pm and 5 am, a ban on gatherings, mandatory mask-wearing in public, and online tuition for high schools and universities — were brought in as part of a state of emergency in place since November 11.

Higher education institutions and high schools remain closed, although primary schools and kindergartens can stay open.

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“The protection measures have been extended until March 1,” Gergely Gulyas told a press briefing.

Parliament will also be asked to extend a so-called “special legal order” provision that allows the government to rule by decree for another 90 days, he said.

On Thursday, Hungary reported 93 new deaths from Covid-19, bringing the country’s overall death toll to 12,291, while the number of coronavirus patients in hospitals fell to 3,669, with 255 on ventilators.

“Restrictions are needed to avoid a third wave of the virus” and can be lifted later only if infection numbers continue to fall and enough vaccines arrive, Gulyas said.

Hungary has repeatedly criticised what it says is the slow pace of vaccine approval and procurement by EU authorities.

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Last week it became the first EU member to approve Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine and said it had agreed to buy two million doses of the jab, although its use depends on a final sign-off by Hungary’s public health authority.

The government has decided to speed up vaccine approval processes with an upcoming decree, Gulyas said.

“Any vaccines around the world that have already been received by more than one million people will receive a license,” he said.

Budapest expects to order 500,000 doses of the Chinese-made Sinopharm jab next month, pending approval by Hungarian inspectors currently in Beijing, Gulyas said.

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