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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) – Hungary on Saturday eased several COVID-19 restrictions for people with government-issued immunity cards, the latest in a series of reopening measures that followed an ambitious vaccination campaign .

Beginning on Saturday, people with plastic cards can enter indoor dining rooms, hotels, theaters, cinemas, spas, gymnasiums, libraries, museums and other places of recreation. Business hours have been extended to 11 p.m. and a nighttime curfew in effect since November will now begin later at midnight.

“In the past, we used to defend ourselves by shutting down, slowing the spread of the virus. But now we are on the attack, ”Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday, announcing the reopening. “The vaccine is like a bulletproof vest. The virus bounces off it. “

Those vaccinated and those who have recovered from COVID-19 are eligible for Hungarian immunity cards, which must be presented at facilities prior to entry. Businesses can face hefty fines if they allow non-cardholders to enter.

Hungary has distributed 4 million first-dose coronavirus vaccines, reaching around 40% of its population. It is the only one of the 27 countries of the European Union to use vaccines from China and Russia in addition to Western vaccines.

The country has the second highest vaccination rate in the EU, but a devastating pandemic wave this spring has also given Hungary the world’s highest overall death rate from COVID-19 per 1 million population around the world, according to Johns Hopkins University. He has seen more than 27,500 dead in the pandemic.

The whole issue of immunity cards or so-called COVID-19 passports is a heavy one, with critics claiming they discriminate against people in poorer countries who do not have access to vaccines. Hungary has also countered possible EU efforts to issue such documents only to those who have obtained vaccines approved by the EU regulatory agency, and not Chinese or Russian vaccines.

A football match in Budapest on Saturday is expected to admit supporters with immunity cards. A competing club released a statement saying the masks would not be needed at the stadium, but urged fans to wear them anyway.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto on Thursday announced that travel between Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro would be allowed without quarantine or testing requirements for holders of immunity cards from those countries. Negotiations for similar agreements are underway with Greece and Israel, he said.

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Follow the PA’s pandemic coverage further at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine



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