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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced a partial lockdown on Monday to contain a surge in coronavirus deaths that has sparked predictions about overwhelmed hospitals.

Measures, slated to begin Wednesday, include an extension of an existing curfew at night, a ban on gatherings and the closure of bars, restaurants and cultural venues, Orban said in a Facebook video.

Sporting events need to happen behind closed doors while secondary schools and universities need to go online, although kindergartens and elementary schools can stay open, Orban said.

The restrictions, which are supposed to last at least 30 days, require parliamentary approval on Tuesday for a state of emergency that enables government rule by decree, he said.

Since the start of the second wave in Hungary at the end of the summer, the nationalist prime minister has avoided reintroducing restrictive measures, arguing that “both the economy and life must be protected”.

However, the number of coronavirus deaths and cases has risen since October, leading to widespread calls for tougher action and warnings from the leading medical association that hospitals may soon be overwhelmed.

Seven-day average data from the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC) shows Hungary had the fourth highest COVID-19 death rate per million in the bloc as of Monday – behind the Czech Republic, Belgium and Slovenia.

Over 5,000 new infections were registered on Monday, with 6,061 coronavirus patients in the hospital, including 415 with ventilators.

Orban admitted Friday that the hospital’s ICU bed capacity could reach 4,480 by mid-December.

Hungary plans to start importing vaccines from Russia next month, he said last week.

“We’re seeing the end of the tunnel, we’ve got more and more good news about vaccines,” he said.

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© 2020 AFP

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