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Hungary allows 4th jab to fight surging Omicron wave
The Hungarian government allowed the 4th vaccine against the Covid-19, in a bid to curb the fifth wave of the pandemic, Gergely Gulyás, the head of the Prime Minister’s office declared in a press conference.
“Anyone who asks can get the fourth vaccine,” Gulyás said. “Anyone can get his or her fourth vaccination following a medical consultation,” Gulyás added.
Miklós Kásler, the Minister of Human Resources, responsible for national healthcare, has already said that a 4th vaccine seemed “inevitable” in a recent radio interview.
The Hungarian government moved to introduce the fourth jab as daily infections numbers are rising due to the Omicron variant, which is causing the majority of the infections.
“The bulk of infections are now caused by the Omicron variant, but the government expects the number of people needing hospital care will not rise as fast as the number of infected,” Gulyás also added.
In order to curb the mounting tide of infections, the government also decided to modify its official pass, called “protection certificate” in Hungarian, to “vaccination certificate” from February 15, putting pressure on the unvaccinated to get the jab.
This means that the pass will only be valid in the hands of those who have received three vaccinations or a second jab within the last six months.
“You will not need a new card for this, the QR code can be read, this will confirm its validity. The government is confident that this step will persuade many unvaccinated people to get inoculated, but no new measures are planned for compulsory vaccination,” Gulyás underlined.
According to international examples, the length of official quarantine will also be reduced to seven days (from currently ten days), but after five days a negative test can be used to lift off quarantine, Gulyás also informed.
In schools, even in the lower grades, unvaccinated contact children will have to be quarantined for five days. They can learn online from home if it can be arranged.
Hungary on Wednesday reported a new high of 14,890 COVID-19 cases in a 24-hour span, raising the national total to 1,369,974.
In the past 24 hours, 85 people have died from the disease, taking the toll to 40,686 in the country, while 1,181,715 have recovered. Currently, 2,645 patients are being treated in hospitals, including 208 on ventilators, figures from the government's coronavirus information website showed.
As of Wednesday, 6,322,905 people have received at least the first shot of a vaccine, while 6,066,056 had two jabs, and 3,430,445 got their booster shot, according to the website.
The real problem is that the Hungarian testing capacities cannot keep up with the spread of the Omicron variant: this is undoubtedly illustrated by the fact that 58 percent (!) of all test results were positive.
This means that there are far more coronavirus-infected people in Hungary than in the official report, but there are not enough tests to know at least approximately how many people have been infected with the virus.
Hungarian PM Orbán announces cap on food prices
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced a price cap on basic foods, to help families battle high inflation, following a meeting of his government last Wednesday.
"The government meeting ended, it was long, we dealt with the issue of price rises in addition to the virus, as prices are rising across Europe due to rising energy prices,” Orbán said in a video message posted on his Facebook page.
“Hungary protects families, we have managed to curb the rise in petrol prices, we have introduced an interest rate stop on mortgages, and we have a policy of reducing utility bills, i.e. Hungarian families are getting energy at a fixed price, which protects them,” Orbán added.
“But the prices of other important products are rising, such as food, so today we have decided to intervene in the prices of six products, granulated sugar, wheat flour, sunflower cooking oil, pork leg, chicken breast and 2.8 percent cow's milk,” Orbán said, listing the most common food products bought by Hungarian consumers.
In Hungary, inflation has shattered a 15 year-old record, reaching 7.4 percent in December, according to the latest figures of the Central Statistical Office KSH.The price of these 6 products must be brought back to the level where it stood on October 15 last year.
The Hungarian head of government also noted: “This has to happen in every store, and from February 1st."
It will be interesting to see how the prices of these products develop at the beginning of this year, to determine how much difference the return to the level of October means.
Curbing the rapid rise in prices through interventionism is not a new effort on the part of the government. After the huge rise in energy prices, the freeze on utility bills (electricity and gas) has long been below market prices for years.
For fuels, the government has also introduced a price cap at 480 forints (1.53 U.S dollar) last November, which has since been below market price for the most part (though not always).
In the case of food, this is the first such step from the government in the current upswing in inflation, in the past the government has tried to curb price increases in individual cases by cutting Value Added Tax, (pork and eggs.)
Schadl helped relatives of Völner, and Rogán’s chief of staff pass university exams
A recently obtained investigation report by 444.hu on Völner’s alleged corruption scandal reveals that Schadl used his relationships to help several law students pass their exams, including a relative of Pál Völner and even Antal Rogán’s chief of staff.
The Völner scandal broke out on December 7, when the chief prosecutor’s office had requested the waiver of the immunity of member of parliament Pál Völner, deputy secretary of state in the minister of justice.
Völner - who was also the ministerial commissioner responsible for the Hungarian Court Bailiffs Chamber since August 2019 - is accused of having illegally received regular bribes of 2 to 5 million forints from György Schadl, the president of the branch of bailiffs over a sustained period of time, according to the prosecution.
Völner resigned from his position with immediate effect.
Since then, Völner has remained in liberty, and the opposition parties have repeatedly called on Justice Minister Judit Varga to step down, arguing that it was inconceivable that she, as Völner’s immediate boss, had no knowledge of his subordinate’s actions.
444.hu obtained the 1,700-page investigation document, which contains transcripts of phone conversations between Völner and Schadl.
According to the documents, a great many people have contacted Schadl to help them pass exams needed for their law degree, and Schadl abided by these demands: he helped bailiffs, their relatives, and even Pál Völner.
In the transcript of a three-minute long phone talk, Schadl assured Völner that “everything would be fine.” The Fidesz politician repeatedly thanked him for his help.
444.hu’s article also reveals that Antal Rogán’s chief of staff’s exam was also discussed and arranged by Schadl over the phone. According to the prosecutor’s office, the student was “not even present at the exam,” and according to information gathered during the investigation, Schadl also arranged the registration of the exam in the national online education software ‘Neptun’.
Start of new fact checking website: Lakmusz.hu
Magyar Jeti Zrt, the publisher of 444 and Qubit, launched a new website last week: Lakmusz (www.lakmusz.hu), the first website in Hungary that dedicates all of its efforts to fact checking.
Disinformation has become a threat to democracy, to the health of citizens and to security worldwide, but the issue is of particular significance in Hungary.
The goal of Lakmusz is to check and investigate claims that reach a wide audience and have a potential to significantly influence people's lives.
Journalists of Lakmusz uncover what facts and evidence support (or refute) the claim, regardless of the author.
During the first week of their operation, Lakmusz debunked, for example, claims made by the government about LMBTQ issues and migration, covered misinformation about COVID-19, and also pointed out incorrect and unfounded claims made by opposition politicians.
Lakmusz was created as part of the Hungarian Digital Media Observatory, a project supported by the European Commission and carried out in collaboration with French news Agency Agence France-Presse, which held a training for journalists of Lakmusz, 444 and Qubit, and the Media Universalis Foundation, which provided academic research to support the project.