Hungary recorded 302 coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, the highest daily death toll since the start of the pandemic, and 6,700 new COVID-19 cases across the country, the government said on Wednesday.
The central European country of 10 million has recorded the highest daily per capita fatalities in the world for several days, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Its health care system has come under extreme stress, the government has said, despite a vaccination programme that has reached a fifth of the population already, one of the fastest inoculation drives in Europe.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who faces elections next year, is walking a tightrope between a strict lockdown to tame the third wave of the pandemic, and calls for an economic reopening to avoid a second straight year of recession.
There were more than 12,000 coronavirus patients in hospital on Tuesday, 1,492 of them on ventilator, the government said.
Meanwhile, Dozens of independent Hungarian news outlets published an open letter on Wednesday asking Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government to end restrictions on reporting on the health system during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The government has said only state media are allowed into hospitals and vaccination centres, but has denied restricting reporting. A government spokesman did not immediately reply to an email seeking further comment on Wednesday.
The news outlets said they were barred from speaking to medics. Calls are regularly referred to the health ministry.
The journalists asked Orban to let them work inside hospital premises and vaccination centres, allow health care workers to talk to reporters and replace limited daily briefings with real-time information.
The Council of Europe said on Tuesday that Hungarian media workers faced increasing problems covering the pandemic. The government dismissed those remarks as “based on presumptions and allegations”.
Activists and international bodies have accused Orban’s government of cracking down on free media since it took power in 2010. The government and the ruling Fidesz party have denied interfering with what they say is a free press.
Main Photo: Pedestrians wear protective masks at the Baross square metro station in Budapest, Hungary . EPA-EFE/Zoltan Balogh