BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary may hold off from broad reopening measures until half of its population is vaccinated, the minister responsible for healthcare said late on Sunday, flagging the possibility of a longer lockdown as the country grapples with record COVID-19 infections.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who faces an election in 2022, is balancing the world's highest daily per capita coronavirus death rates, according to Johns Hopkins University, with a need to reopen the economy to avoid a second year of deep recession.
In recent weeks Hungary, with a population of 9.8 million, has lost more than 200 citizens a day and recorded nearly 20,000 deaths overall since the start of the pandemic, according to government data.
Orban and his cabinet members have said Hungary would start reopening schools and businesses once inoculations reach a quarter of the population.
Speaking to private broadcaster Hir TV in a late Sunday talk show, Human Resources Minister Miklos Kasler, who is responsible for healthcare and education, said the bar for a broad reopening may be set higher than that.
"Once our vaccination reaches about half of the population, calculating with the spreading speed of the variant first seen in Britain... I think the end of May, the beginning of June is when we can decisively ease restrictions - unless a new variant comes," Kasler said.
Hungary's vaccination campaign has reached 1.9 million people with at least a first dose and nearly 700,000 with a second as the country has used Chinese and Russian vaccines alongside Western ones.
Both Hungary's vaccine imports and its inoculations are the highest per capita in the European Union, according to EU figures.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Alex Richardson)