Hungary seeks citizen input on easing pandemic restrictions

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary’s government launched an online questionnaire Thursday asking citizens to give their opinions on lifting pandemic restrictions as weeks of declining COVID-19 cases have started to rise again.

The government calls the set of seven questions a “national consultation,” an informal, non-scientific poll that officials say is meant to gauge public sentiment. The questions cover the possible lifting of restrictions that have been in place since Nov. 11, including an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and the mandatory closure of hotels and restaurants which have been in place since Nov. 11.

The consultation also asks whether sporting facilities like gyms and swimming pools should be among the first establishments opened once restrictions are lifted, and whether restrictions should be eased gradually or halted simultaneously “at the end of the pandemic.”

“Some say that if the pandemic situation allows, one of the first steps should be reopening restaurants and hotels while maintaining strict safety guidelines. Do you agree?” one question reads.

Hungary, which weathered the first months of the coronavirus pandemic with few recorded cases and deaths, struggled through the fall and now winter to keep the numbers down. As of Thursday, 14,035 people had died of coronavirus-related causes in the country of less than 10 million, giving Hungary the 12th worst death rate per 100,000 inhabitants in the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

A steady decline in daily cases and deaths that began in late December began reversing course early this month, even as the country began receiving shipments of Russian and Chinese vaccines. Hungary is so far the only Europe Union member to depart from the EU’s vaccine procurement program by securing doses made in China and Russia.

The government conducted a previous national consultation last summer on the lifting of restrictions and economic recovery, which it used rhetorically as a popular mandate to keep the country open even as pandemic indicators worsened dramatically in September and October.

In an interview in September, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the results of the summer consultation showed that Hungarians did not want strict pandemic measures imposed.

“This is what they told us in the questionnaires: that they don’t want the country to come to a standstill. They want it to continue functioning,” he said.

Orban’s government has used other consultations in recent years to demonstrate support for its policies on immigration and EU relations.

The new questionnaire also asks citizens whether they believe an immunity certificate, a document the government says will be issued to those who have been vaccinated against the virus or have already recovered from infection, should afford people exemption from certain restrictions. The possibility of keeping Hungary’s borders closed to foreign citizens unless they have an immunity certificate is also raised.

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/hub/understanding-the-outbreak

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