Hungary PM says no room to ease lockdown measures as coronavirus infections rise

·2-min read

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary has no room to loosen lockdown measures yet due to a rise in coronavirus infections, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday, adding doctors would start vaccinating pregnant women with Pfizer-BioNTech's and Moderna's vaccines.

Orban said the government planned to limit the number of shoppers allowed in shops from the weekend, while possibly keeping shops open longer in the evening. The decisions will be published on Saturday.

Hungary reported a record high daily tally of 275 COVID-19 deaths on Friday.

Its hospitals are under "extraordinary" pressure, its surgeon general said on Wednesday, as the country became a hotspot in the third wave of a pandemic that has hit Central Europe especially hard.

Orban said it was hard to predict when the third wave of the pandemic, which swept the region fuelled by the spread of the more contagious variant of the virus first discovered in Britain, would peak. He said the main question was how fast infections can start dropping once the peak is passed.

"The next 1-2 weeks will be hard," he told state radio.

He added, though, that there was a "realistic chance" of schools reopening from April 19, once teachers and staff have been vaccinated.

Orban said by now, 71% of those aged above 65 years who have registered for a shot have been vaccinated, and a total of 1.8 million people got at least a first dose of a vaccine in the country of 10 million.

The Hungarian Medical Chamber warned people earlier this week to limit shopping to once a week, if possible, avoid public transport and postpone any non-essential domestic travel.

"We have been leading the world in death rates as a share of the population for days, most hospital departments now serve as COVID departments, intensive care units are under a multiple overload," it said.

(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Toby Chopra)