Categories
Monthly Digest

January 2021

Coronavirus updates from across the region along with major political events including Poland’s near-total ban on abortion.

Czech Republic

Coronavirus cases and deaths plateaued and the government remained concerned about the possibility of a third wave of the virus beginning while hospitals are still full. This led them to slightly tighten restrictions, although they decided against drastic steps such as restricting people to a 15km radius of their homes. The British mutation of the virus caused significant concern, while the vaccine rollout continued at a glacial speed, with first doses having to be suspended in order to allow second doses to be administered. Speculation began that the Czech Republic will buy the Russian vaccine Sputnik V, along with other members of the EU such as Hungary.

Speculation emerged that Health Minister Jan Blatný would be replaced, with rumours that Prime Minister Andrej Babiš would take up the role with former Health Minister Roman Prymula acting as Executive Minister. All parties refused to comment on the speculation. Following his removal in the autumn, Prymula regained media prominence in January.

Hungary

Hungary became the first country in the EU to receive a shipment of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, with 40,000 doses arriving in the country. Hungary also became the first EU country to approve China’s Sinopharm vaccine, with 5 million doses ordered. Hungary’s independent approach to vaccination allowed it to escape some of the delays plaguing the vaccine rollout in other EU countries.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán explained Hungary’s stance in the Rule of Law dispute, noting that the EU is made up of sovereign nations, but that Brussels is trying to appropriate greater powers. Orbán claims exit from the EU is not on the cards for Hungary, noting that it is better for Hungary to be in the EU and calling Brexit a “big mistake”. Orbán noted the importance for Hungary to belong to an alliance providing security.

Having risen to record numbers in the autumn, coronavirus cases and deaths plateaued at a lower rate in January. Patience with lockdown began to wear thin, with restaurants threatening to open regardless of restrictions.

Poland

Coronavirus cases and deaths continued a steady decrease into February, leading to Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announcing a loosening of restrictions involving the re-opening of museums and shopping centres at the start of February and the re-opening of hotels, cinemas and theatres with up to 50% occupancy from mid-February.

Following a ruling by a constitutional tribunal which stated that abortion in cases of irreversible foetal abnormalities is unconstitutional, the government announced a near-total ban on abortion. Abortions are now only allowed in cases of rape or incest or where the mother’s life is in danger. The announcement sparked protests throughout the country. Newspapers noted the potential for conflict with the Biden administration in the USA on issues such as LGBT rights and abortion.

The Prime Minister announced a New Polish Deal, a programme of economic reform to help the country bounce back following the pandemic, aimed at boosting employment and incomes.

Slovakia

The country underwent its second round of mass antigen testing. The idea was first implemented in November 2020. Mass testing in January. Testing was used to enforce a strict targeted lockdown, with negative results required when travelling to work, going to parks, visiting banks, official offices, petrol stations or shops.

The British mutation of the virus became a cause for concern in Slovakia, with the British variant accounting for an increasing proportion of positive test results throughout the country. Nevertheless, the virus situation began to improve with health experts claiming the country is past the peak of the second wave.