Hungary's first COVID-19 vaccine shipment could arrive by early January

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Hungary's first shipment of coronavirus vaccine is expected to arrive in late December or early January, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told state radio on Friday.

Orban said Hungary was talking to China and Russia about vaccines and by the spring it could have access to two or three different vaccines. From April, the country was likely to be able to "declare victory over the pandemic".

There is as yet no clinically proven vaccine against the coronavirus, though nearly 200 candidates are in development worldwide, and late-stage trial results are expected for the first of them by the end of 2020.

Orban's government has refrained from imposing restrictions on mass events so far, with schools operating as normal and shops open. Football matches have been held with spectators in stadiums nationwide.

Orban told the radio that from Monday those violating rules on wearing masks would face harsh penalties, with restaurants and shops to be closed by authorities if necessary.

"I believe the key is to obey the existing rules... and that masks must be worn," Orban said, adding that there were enough hospital beds and ventilators to treat patients.

The National Medical Chamber called on the government on Tuesday to limit the opening hours of restaurants, reintroduce special shopping hours for the elderly as infections and the number of hospitalised COVID-19 patients is rising.

The government has not acted on these proposals. Orban is seeking to avoid a repeat of a spring lockdown that sent the economy crashing by 13.6 per cent in the second quarter.

On Thursday, the number of cases in Hungary rose to 68,127, with 56 new deaths taking the total toll to 1,634. There are 3,197 coronavirus patients in hospitals.

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