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Hungary to ease virus curbs as vaccine rollout progresses

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BUDAPEST (Reuters) -Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Friday said parts of the service economy will reopen as scheduled on Saturday as the country’s COVID-19 vaccination rate surpasses 40%, adding he would slowly refocus on kick-starting economic growth.

Hungary has the highest cumulative per capita coronavirus death toll in the world, according to worldometers.info, but the third wave of its epidemic is slowly receding.

The range of services reopening will include hotels, indoor restaurants, theatres, cinemas, gyms, sports venues, swimming pools, museums, libraries and zoos, Orban said, confirming earlier plans.

Orban who, to criticism from Brussels and from domestic political opponents, has imported vaccines from China and Russia that have yet to receive EU approval, told public radio there were enough shots in the country to inoculate everyone who has registered for them.

“Vaccines are like a bulletproof vest,” the premier told state radio. “We now have one for everybody, please come and suit up so the virus has no one to attack.”

The economy suffered a deep recession in all of 2020, and Orban said he would insist on an expansionary budget for 2022.

“I think we will reach pre-pandemic economic levels faster than some may think,” said Orban, whose government currently projects a growth rate of 4.3% this year and over 5% in 2022.

“We cannot produce a smaller budget deficit (in 2022)… It is a restarting budget.”

The premier, who faces his first tight election race in 2022 since assuming power a decade ago, has leveraged the rapid vaccine rollout to try to shore up his support base.

In March, more than 16,000 died in the nation of 10 million, a 40% annual increase and the highest figure for that month since a deadly flu outbreak in 1983, central statistics office KSH said on Friday.

(Reporting by Marton Dunai @mdunai; editing by John Stonestreet)

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