Fifth wave of coronavirus pandemic underway in Hungary, a major hotspot already visible


The latest coronavirus statistics released by local authorities have confirmed that the fifth wave of the coronavirus pandemic is underway in Hungary, as we highlighted earlier. The details show that nearly 30% of daily confirmed new COVID-19 cases were found in Budapest.

Hungarian authorities diagnosed 5,270 people with SARS-CoV-2 on Tuesday, 46% more than Monday and 75% more than a week earlier. 1,557 or 29% of new cases were found in Budapest, which is the highest reading for the capital since December 2.

This marks a 100% growth from Monday i.e. Budapest is clearly one of the hotspots for the spread of the highly contagious variant of Omicron which is doubling the number of cases every 1, 5 to 3 days.

However, due to poor testing practices, the number of daily cases may not reflect the actual spread of the virus. In other words, the epidemiological curve showing the number of new cases is unlikely to paint an accurate picture of the worsening situation.

Positive daily percentage data is unreliable, as are short-term averages. Authorities tested nearly 18,000 samples on Tuesday, more than double Monday’s figure, but the positivity rate fell only to 29.67% from 30.96%. The three-day positivity rate is still up at 28.24% from 21.9% and is significantly higher than a year ago. In fact, each positive percentage average is (much) higher than the same day in 2021.

More importantly, the 3-day / 21-day positive percentage jumped to 154.6% from 120.6%, and the 7-day average of this ratio increased further to nearly 110% from 103.7%, which does not bode well for the future.

The Omicron variant has already overtaken Delta as the dominant variant in the US, UK and France.

The rapid spread of the virus in Budapest comes as no surprise, as the capital was a hotspot whenever a new wave started. Less densely populated areas generally catch up with a lag of a few weeks.

The graph below reaffirms the observation above, i.e. at the initial stage of new waves, Budapest accounts for a higher percentage of new cases than other regions.

The effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines given in the basic protocol (two doses) against the infection decreases over time, while only a third of the Hungarian population is protected against the coronavirus by three shots. This, coupled with the rapid transmission of Omicron and the general health of the population, strongly suggests that Hungary should not expect to experience the same favorable developments that we have witnessed in some Western European countries.

It is hoped that the symptoms caused by Omicron are less severe than those induced by its predecessors, and that those infected are therefore less likely to end up in hospital or die.

The lesser severity of Omicron is likely the result of changes in the virus itself, combined with high levels of immunity (from vaccination or previous infection) that have accumulated in human populations. A study published on December 21 by the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, Johannesburg, for example, found, after adjusting for age, illnesses and other factors (including vaccination status and previous infection ) that determine the risks of developing severe disease, that Omicron cases are 80% less likely than previous variants to require hospitalization, The Economist reported on January 1.

The problem is that it spreads extremely quickly, doubling cases roughly every two days. Even though Omicron causes less severe symptoms than its predecessors, it could lead to an extremely high number of new cases in a very short period of time, which could put a strain on the healthcare system.

“Rapid growth of Omicron…even if combined with slightly milder disease, will still result in large numbers of hospitalizations, especially among unvaccinated groups, and cause widespread disruption to health systems and other critical services,” WHO Europe Covid Incident Manager Catherine Smallwood warned in late December 2021.

Cover photo: MTI/György Varga

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