BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary can start the first stage of easing coronavirus restrictions once a further one million citizens have been vaccinated, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday.
“There is a good chance (we) will have a (restrictions) free summer,” Orban told public radio, adding that hospitals were managing to cope with a record wave of infections.
Orban said the daily tally of coronavirus-related deaths stood at a record 213, with more than 10,000 people in hospital.
Orban aims to get as many people immunised as quickly as possible to reopen and jump-start the economy, which shrank by 5.1% last year.
Around 1.5 million Hungarians have been inoculated so far, and he said curbs could start to be eased once that number rose to 2.5 million – equivalent to a quarter of the population.
Orban reiterated his backing for Hungary’s use of Chinese and Russian vaccines, which it was the first European Union country to authorise and deploy.
He also said his nationalist Fidesz party would team up with like-minded parties in Italy and Poland to reorganise European right-wing politics. He would soon meet with Matteo Salvini, who heads Italy’s right-wing League party, and Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and “we will plan the future together.”
Fidesz on Thursday submitted its resignation from the European People’s Party (EPP), the mainstream conservative grouping in the European parliament.
Orban said Fidesz had politically drifted away from the EPP in recent years on issues also including taxation and the handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Orban, who faces elections in 2022, is up for the toughest challenge of his decade-long rule as a united opposition is running neck-and-neck with him in polls.
The premier has turned to increasingly hardline rhetoric in recent years, advocating “ethnic homogeneity,” mimicking Poland’s anti-LGBT politics with legal changes and using harsh language against Hungary’s Roma minority.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai @mdunai; Editing by John Stonestreet)