'I have only bad news' PM warns Hungary, as hospitals face worst weeks yet


FILE PHOTO: Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks as he arrives to attend a face-to-face EU summit amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown in Brussels, Belgium December 10, 2020. John Thys/Pool via REUTERS

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary is entering its toughest period since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and over the next two weeks hospitals will come under strain like never before, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Thursday.

"I have only bad news," Orban said in a Facebook video. "We are facing the hardest two weeks since the start of the pandemic. The number of infections is rising sharply and will continue to rise due to the new mutations."

On Thursday, Hungary reported 4,385 new infections, the highest number this year.

Hungary's government has extended a partial lockdown until March 15, Orban's chief of staff said earlier in the day.

The next two weeks would be "exceptionally difficult", Gergely Gulyas told a government briefing, adding that the pace of vaccinations would accelerate after Hungary started to roll out China's Sinopharm vaccine on Wednesday.

He said Orban was expected to receive a Sinopharm shot next week.

Hungary, with a population of around 10 million, had reported 414,514 cases since the start of the pandemic, with 14,672 deaths.

So far, just over half a million people have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

All secondary schools have been closed since Nov. 11, as have hotels and restaurants except for takeaway meals, a 1900 GMT curfew has been in place and all gatherings have been banned.

Hungary on Wednesday became the first European Union country to start inoculating people with Sinopharm shots, after rolling out Russia's Sputnik V as part of its vaccination campaign. The Chinese and Russian vaccines have not been granted regulatory approval in the EU.

These shots are now being administered along with the Pfizer-BioNTech, vaccine and shots developed by U.S. company Moderna and Anglo-Swedish firm AstraZeneca.

According to the statistics office, there is a rising willingness to get a vaccine, with 40% saying in mid-February that they planned to get a vaccine and 26% saying they may.

(Reporting by Krisztina Than and Anita Komuves; Editing by Alison Williams, Nick Macfie, Alexandra Hudson)

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