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Orban Retreats On Hungarian School Reopenings Amid Pushback

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban received his first Chinese Sinopharm vaccine in February.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban received his first Chinese Sinopharm vaccine in February.

Authorities in Hungary have delayed the planned reopening of secondary schools to mid-May amid calls for a postponement of one of the European Union's more ambitious curbing of pandemic restrictions.

Prime Minister Victor Orban announced the three-week delay, to May 10, on state radio on April 9.

It came with reports of teachers, parents, and students urging a slower approach to the easing, with new infections falling only gradually since a high of 11,265 on March 26.

Hungarian authorities began an easing of anti-pandemic measures on April 7, as they reached one-quarter of the country vaccinated, that the Hungarian Medical Chamber criticized as premature.

Orban and his dominant Fidesz party allies have pressed for a swift reopening to kick-start the Hungarian economy; it's the only EU member state to have begun mass vaccinations using the Russian Sputnik V injection and with the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine.

Orban has been a vocal critic of the European Union's COVID-19 response.

Hungary is highest among EU states in vaccinations and has imported more vaccine doses per capita, but it has also been at or near the top of COVID-19 death charts adjusted for population recently.

The Teachers' Democratic Trade Union posted on April 8 that it did not believe the country was ready yet for in-person teaching.

In his April 9 radio interview, Orban said he hoped 3.5 million of Hungary's nearly 10 million residents will have gotten at least one vaccine shot by April 16.

He predicted a 70 percent level -- which would still be short of what most experts believe is needed for herd immunity -- by early June.

Budapest is among 12 host cities for the delayed Euro 2020 soccer championships slated for mid-June, and Orban said he hoped fans could "attend the events with an immunity card."

With reporting by Reuters
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