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Hungary's Orban Signals Delay In Reopening As Virus Deaths At Record High

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban

Hungary has reported a record number of coronavirus deaths, prompting Prime Minister Viktor Orban to announce a delay in the reopening of the economy.

Hungary has overtaken the Czech Republic for the world's highest per capita death rate for the past seven days, according to the Our World in Data website.

The Central European country on March 23 reported 252 fatalities, a daily record.

The toll comes after a spike in hospitalizations and patients on ventilators threatened to break its overstretched health system despite per capita vaccination rates at the top of European Union nations.

"Until all of our compatriots older than 65 who are registered for vaccination have been inoculated, we will not be able to start with reopening, because their lives would be in imminent danger," Orban said in a Facebook video.

The surge in infections scuppered Orban's tentative plan for a phased reopening of the economy from later this month.

A partial lockdown in effect since November 2020 was extended with the closure of schools and kindergartens.

The Hungarian Medical Chamber warned people on March 22 to limit shopping to once a week, if possible, avoid public transport and postpone any nonessential domestic travel.

Hungary was the first EU country to buy and use Chinese or Russian vaccines as shipments from Western suppliers lagged.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on social media on March 23 that a government cargo plane is bringing a second shipment of 180,000 doses of vaccines from Russia. Szijjarto said that once the latest Russian delivery is received, vaccines from Russia and China will have reached 1,776,000 doses.

With reporting by Reuters
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