Hungary reopens for people holding Covid-19 immunity cards

Hungary on Saturday loosened several Covid-19 restrictions for people with government-issued immunity cards, the latest in a series of reopening measures that have followed an ambitious vaccination campaign, AP reported. Issues, however, have already risen.

As of Saturday, individuals with plastic cards may enter indoor dining rooms, hotels, theaters, cinemas, spas, gyms, libraries, museums and other recreational venues. Opening hours for businesses were extended to 11 p.m. and an overnight curfew in place since November will now start later, at midnight.

To be eligible for the Hungarian immunity cards people must have at least one vaccine dose or have already recovered from Covid-19. The cards must be presented at establishments before entry and businesses can be issued heavy fines if they allow non-cardholders to enter. At some places, like the Budapest Zoo, children under 18 who are accompanied by adult cardholders may enter establishments without a card. Yet, bureaucratic hiccups meant that many vaccinated residents did not receive immunity cards within eight days of their first shot as planned.

Speaking from Budapest’s neo-Baroque Szecheyni Baths, the largest medicinal spa in Europe, Ildiko Szucs, the CEO of Budapest Spas Ltd., told The Associated Press that many guests arrived Saturday with proof of vaccination issued by their doctors but had not received their government-issued cards and had to be turned away.

“We will try to take action on this matter and, if necessary, ask for an amendment to the legislation...since these guests have already received two vaccinations in many cases,” she said.

Maria and Gabor Gal, a retired married couple, received their first dose on 21 March, and their second in early April. But six weeks after their initial shots, they said they hadn’t received their cards.

“They told us that the vaccination certificate will come when it comes. Now we’re asking when it will come, because it would be good if we could use it,” Maria Gal, 67, said. “We’re sitting here locked in for a year-and-a-half.”

The Hungarian government launched a website and special email address where people waiting for their cards could submit inquiries. Earlier plans indicated a mobile application would be available to provide proof of vaccination, but the system has yet to go online.

A devastating pandemic surge this spring gave Hungary the world’s highest overall Covid-19 mortality rate per 1 million residents, according to Johns Hopkins University. The country of about 9.7 million people has reported over 27,500 deaths in the pandemic.

But the government has moved aggressively to vaccinate the population. Hungary has administered 4 million first doses of coronavirus vaccines, reaching about 40% of the population, giving the country the second-highest vaccination rate in the European Union.

Hungary also is the only one of the EU’s 27 nations to use vaccines from China and Russia in addition to Western jabs. The government is thus trying to counter possible EU moves to issue such certificates only to those who received vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency, which so far do not include the vaccines made in China and Russia.

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