KUALA LUMPUR: Wearing a face mask is no longer compulsory, parks are open to the public, people can dine in at restaurants and students are going back to the classroom.
This is life in Hungary today while many other countries have imposed lockdowns and their people live under the restrictive new normal.
Two Malaysian students in Hungary – Puteri Norliana Megat Ramli and Nor Amira Abdul Rahman – have witnessed how Hungarians have slowly discarded the new norms brought about by Covid-19 and have returned to the pre-pandemic days, thanks to their host nation’s successful vaccination effort.
Puteri Norliana, who is now in the capital city of Budapest, recalled how she breathed a sigh of relief when Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced the lifting of most restrictions on May 21, including wearing face mask in public places, after 50% of the country’s population had been vaccinated.
Hungary, with a population of 9.8 million, is the only country in central and eastern Europe to have inoculated at least half of its population with at least one dose of a vaccine.
The 34-year-old from Taiping, Perak, who is pursuing a master’s degree in Advanced Practitioner Nursing in Intensive Care at University of Pecs, said she got her second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on March 10.
At present, there are about 100 Malaysians in Hungary.
She said with the Hungarian immunity card issued for people who have been vaccinated, she could now move freely, but the card must be presented at establishments before entry.
Another interesting observation she made was that although wearing a face mask was no longer mandatory in open public places since May 23, there has been no spike in Covid-19 cases to date.
“I am happy to get back to life like how it was in the pre-Covid-19 days. There is more freedom now and I can inhale fresh air without a face mask,” she said in an interview.
Puteri Norliana said universities have reopened and physical classes resumed after months of online lessons since November last year.
Separately, Nor Amira said more people have started to gather outside to enjoy summer, especially those with government-issued immunity cards.
“More businesses especially shopping malls are operating, we can dine in and watch a movie at cinemas now.
“Everything is back to normal, people go out more and some spend their time in Lake Balaton (a recreational spot in Hungary) and participate in sports,” said the 31-year-old doctorate student in Biology at Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest.
Nor Amira commended the Hungarian government’s efforts in ensuring swift vaccination rollout and was optimistic that Malaysia would go the same way with its vaccination drive in high gear now.
Hungarian ambassador to Malaysia Dr Petra Ponevács-Pana also shared the country’s success in defeating the disease and returning to pre-pandemic days within a short span.
In March, the country was hard hit by the third wave with up to 11,265 daily cases.
However, in less than three months, the number dropped significantly, with the latest count on Friday at 199 cases.
“On June 4, the first concert took place and several hundred people were together, celebrating and listening to music in an outdoor club. So, basically everything is open.
“You can have coffee with your friends, you can go for a walk in the city, you can enjoy theatre and visit a museum,” she said.
Noting that the speed of vaccination rollout was the key success factor, she said Hungary is the first country in European Union (EU) to use China’s Sinopharm and Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines, which in turn helped the country achieve one of the EU’s highest vaccination rates.
The diplomat was convinced that Malaysia would also achieve the same result with current efforts to ramp up the inoculation rate.
She also acknowledged Malaysians’ high compliance to the standard operating procedure, which would make it possible to contain the spread of the disease soon.
“I always feel safe here in Malaysia and all my colleagues as well because of how the regular people are behaving. They very much follow the rules that are essential to overcome the disease.
“I was back in Hungary a couple of months ago and was surprised to see the people there.
‘’They were not as disciplined as in Malaysia. I think Malaysians in general are very much disciplined,” she said. – Bernama