Hungary reopens for people holding COVID-19 immunity cards

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary on Saturday loosened several COVID-19 restrictions for people with government-issued immunity cards, the latest in a series of reopening measures that have followed an ambitious vaccination campaign.

As of Saturday, individuals with the plastic cards may enter indoor dining rooms, hotels, theaters, cinemas, spas, gyms, libraries, museums and other recreational venues. Opening hours for businesses were extended to 11 p.m. and an overnight curfew in place since November will now start later, at midnight.

“In the past, we defended ourselves by closing, thereby slowing the spread of the virus. But now we are on the attack,” Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Friday as he announced the reopening. “The vaccine is like a bulletproof vest. The virus bounces off of it.”

Vaccinated people and those who have recovered from COVID-19 are eligible for the Hungarian immunity cards, which must be presented at establishments before entry. Businesses can be issued heavy fines if they allow non-card holders to enter.

Hungary has given out 4 million first-dose coronavirus vaccinations, reaching about 40% of its population. It is the only one of the European Union’s 27 nations to use vaccines from China and Russia in addition to Western jabs.

The country has the second-highest vaccination rate in the EU, but a devastating pandemic surge this spring also gave Hungary the world’s highest overall COVID-19 mortality rate per 1 million inhabitants in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University. It has seen over 27,500 deaths in the pandemic.

The whole issue of immunity cards or so-called COVID-19 passports is fraught, with critics saying they discriminate against people in poorer nations who do not have access to vaccines. Hungary has also been countering possible EU efforts to issue such documents only to those who have gotten vaccines approved by the EU’s regulatory agency, not Chinese or Russian vaccine jabs.

A soccer match in Budapest on Saturday is expected to admit fans holding immunity cards. A competing club issued a statement saying masks would not be required in the stadium but urged fans to wear them anyway.

On Thursday, Hungary’s foreign affairs minister, Peter Szijjarto, announced that travel between Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro would be permitted without quarantines or testing requirements for immunity card holders from those countries. Negotiations for similar agreements are underway with Greece and Israel, he said.

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