A woman walks in downtown Budapest in a file photo. Image Credit: REUTERS

Budapest: Hungary is to make a fourth COVID-19 shot available to people who ask for it, after a consultation with a doctor, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, told a news conference on Thursday.

Gulyas made the announcement just as the Central European country of 10 million expects a substantial further increase in COVID-19 cases over the coming weeks due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

“Anyone can get a fourth COVID-19 shot based on a consultation with a doctor, the (government) decree about this will be published this week,” Gulyas said.

On Wednesday, Denmark said it would offer a fourth coronavirus vaccination to the most vulnerable citizens.

The European Union’s drug regulator has expressed doubts about the need for a fourth dose and said there was no data to support this approach as it seeks more information on the fast-spreading variant. Chile and Israel have already begun a rollout.

Gulyas said the number of daily new cases would likely hit all-time peaks, adding however that the government did not expect a similar increase in hospitalisations and deaths.

In Hungary, there are practically no restrictions in place and schools are operating as normal. Mask wearing is mandatory in indoor places and on public transport.

Hungary’s daily tally of new COVID-19 infections jumped to 9,216 on Thursday from 7,883 on Wednesday, but the number of patients treated in hospital declined.

In Hungary 40,164 people have died of COVID-19. There are 2,647 coronavirus patients in hospital now, including 249 on ventilators.

The government has also decided to shorten the required quarantine period to 7 days from 10 days, Gulyas said, adding that people can leave quarantine after 5 days with a negative COVID-19 test.

Just over six million Hungarians have received at least two shots, and 3.3 million have also received a third booster, but the country’s vaccination rate still lags most western European levels.