Oxford jab delivery hold-up disrupts EU bid to stop third wave

Surgical face masks production in Dunafoldvar, Hungary - Balazs Mohai/Shutterstock 
Surgical face masks production in Dunafoldvar, Hungary - Balazs Mohai/Shutterstock

It’s an unwelcome paradox for Hungary. Medics have dispensed over a million vaccinations, and the country now only trails Malta in the EU when it comes to vaccinations per capita, but all this has failed to prevent Hungary suffering from a crippling third Covid-19 wave, with Hungarians testing positive in record numbers.

Hungary’s health authorities reported on Friday a new daily high of 9,011 positive tests, while another 130 deaths brought the country’s Covid-19 toll to 16,627. On the same day the number of Covid patients in hospital rose by 389 to reach 8,718.

The country now has the third highest Covid-19 fatality rate in the world, and is fourth place globally in deaths per capita, according to information from the John Hopkins University.

All this despite Hungary using Russia’s Sputnik V and the Chinese Sinopharm vaccines to help drive the vaccination rate up to 13.2 doses per 100 people, far better than the EU average of 9.1.

Tamas Sved, secretary of the Hungarian Medical Chamber, has said that the country’s health system “is almost at capacity”, not through a lack of bed and ventilators but through a lack of the specialist staff needed to keep the seriously ill alive.

Hungary’s media is now reporting that hospital doctors are having to decide who lives, and who dies.

Closed stores line a deserted Vaci Street in Budapest, Hungary - Akos Stiller /Bloomberg
Closed stores line a deserted Vaci Street in Budapest, Hungary - Akos Stiller /Bloomberg

"We are increasingly faced with the situation when we have to decide to end life support for one patient, which means turning off the machine, in order to help another patient who may have a better chance of surviving,” one doctor told Magyar Hang, a Hungarian news website.

Along with hospitals, other organisations are feeling the strain of the third wave. Kata Tutto, Budapest’s deputy mayor, earlier this week set alarm bells ringing when she suggested that the city's underground might have to close down because so many staff were testing positive.

The prospect of a significant, and high-profile, piece of public infrastructure shutting down prompted the government into announcing that underground workers would be eligible for a vaccination along with police officers and soldiers.

Cecilia Muller, Hungary’s chief medical officer, attributes the rapid rise in cases to the highly contagious British Covid variant. The mutant strain is now sweeping across Europe, and research in Hungary shows that it is now responsible for 50 per cent of positive tests in the country, and that proportion is expected to grow.

Other Central European countries are also falling under the dark sway of the British mutation. The Czech and Slovak republics, praised last year for their efforts at containing the first wave, are now battling the grim effects of the third wave with 207 people dying on March 12 in the Czech Republic.

In Poland, where the British variant now accounts for around 40 per cent of infections, the daily infection rate topped 21,000 on Friday, and this week the capital Warsaw came under a tighter lockdown regime.

People wait for their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by China's Sinopharm company, at a vaccination center of a seniors club in Budapest - ATTILA KISBENEDEK /AFP
People wait for their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by China's Sinopharm company, at a vaccination center of a seniors club in Budapest - ATTILA KISBENEDEK /AFP

To add to their woes AstraZenica, the Anglo/Swedish pharmaceutical firm, announced on Saturday a delay in vaccine supplies to the EU.

“AstraZeneca is disappointed to announce a shortfall in planned Covid-19 vaccine shipments to the European Union (EU) despite working tirelessly to accelerate supply,” the company said in a statement.

It had previously warned it was facing shortfalls from its European supply chain due to "lower-than-expected output from the production process."

In an effort to curb the spread of the virus, this week the Hungarian government tightened lockdown restrictions. All schools and nurseries will be closed until April 7, non-essential shops closed for fortnight and facemasks are obligatory in public. An 8pm to 5am curfew also remains in place.

Despite the dangers posed by the surge in cases the government in Budapest remains optimistic that it can control the virus. It says the health system has the capacity to cope, and that the recent arrival of hundreds of thousands of vaccines from China will help in the fight.

“Hungary has received vaccines for another 450,000 people, saving them from the disease and possible death,” Viktor Orban, the prime minister, said on his Facebook page on Friday, adding that they will help keep Hungary in Europe's top league in the vaccination rates.

“This is a great moment,” the prime minister added. end