Hungary mulls restriction waivers linked to COVID-19 vaccine certificates

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Hungary has raised the prospect that citizens who have already had the coronavirus or been vaccinated against it could receive waivers from certain restrictions.

The waivers, outlined in a nationwide survey launched late on Wednesday, would be linked to certificates to be issued to those deemed to be protected from the virus. They include exemptions from restrictions in place since November such as a night-time curfew.

Governments and developers around the world are exploring the potential use of “vaccine passports” as a way of reopening the economy by identifying those protected against COVID-19.

Nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who faces a parliamentary election early next year, has regularly used similar surveys to test public opinion on key issues, such as immigration, underpinning policy decisions.

It was unclear whether Hungarians, many of whom are reluctant to get inoculated against COVID-19, would be ready to back such privileges for those deemed to be protected. The survey also includes an option for curbs to stay until the end of the pandemic.

The 57-year-old Orban is under pressure to reopen the economy in the run-up to next year’s ballot, with Hungary’s tourism and hospitality sector reeling under a partial lockdown.

However, any reopening of the economy remains a distant prospect, because of a slow pace of vaccinations and a renewed surge in coronavirus infections. On Thursday, data showed the number of new daily cases rose to its highest since the start of the year.

Zoltan Novak, a political analyst at the Centre for Fair Political Analysis think tank said the likely aim of the survey was to legitimise possible future easing measures if the pandemic subsides.

“The extent of pressure on the government will depend on the battle between the part of the population supporting lockdown measures and those saying this just cannot go on like this any longer,” he said.

Orban’s government is also asking Hungarians whether those protected should be allowed to attend concerts or other events, while the survey also explores whether Hungary’s borders should be opened only to people with a vaccine passport.

As of Thursday, Hungary had inoculated 141,023 people against COVID-19 with both shots required, representing just over 1% of its total population.

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