Hungary reopens for people holding COVID-19 immunity cards

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A Hungarian woman shows her government-issued COVID-19 immunity card in Budapest, Hungary on Friday April. 30, 2021. Beginning Saturday morning, card holders may access indoor dining rooms, hotels, theaters, cinemas, spas, gyms, libraries, museums and other recreational venues. The latest round of re-openings, which the government has tied to the number of administered vaccines, will come as Hungary reaches 4 million first-dose vaccinations, representing about 40% of the population. (AP Photo/Bela Szandelszky)

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

As of Saturday, individuals with the plastic cards may enter indoor dining rooms, hotels, theaters, cinemas, spas, gyms, libraries, museums and other recreational venues. Opening hours for businesses were extended to 11 p.m. and an overnight curfew in place since November will now start later, at midnight.

People who have received at least one vaccine dose and those who have recovered from COVID-19 are eligible for the Hungarian immunity cards, which must be presented at establishments before entry. Businesses can be issued heavy fines if they allow non-cardholders to enter.

The whole issue of so-called COVID-19 passports is fraught in many parts of the world, with critics saying they discriminate against people in poorer nations or younger age groups who do not have access to vaccines. In Hungary, bureaucratic hiccups meant that many vaccinated residents did not receive immunity cards within eight days of their first shot as planned.

Hungary’s famous thermal baths, a hallmark of its tourism industry, opened their pools, saunas and steam rooms to guests Saturday after nearly six months of closure. Budapest, which operates 12 such spas, opened six of them.

Ildiko Szucs, the CEO of Budapest Spas Ltd., told The Associated Press that she thinks the baths will benefit people who have suffered physically and mentally during the pandemic.

“The effect of medicinal water on stress management and mental rejuvenation is very important, and we hope as many people as possible will recognize this and visit us,” Szucs said.

Speaking from Budapest’s neo-Baroque Szecheyni Baths, the largest medicinal spa in Europe, Szucs said many guests arrived Saturday with proof of vaccination issued by their doctors but had not received their government-issued cards and had to be turned away.