Hungary detects UK variant of coronavirus, surgeon general says

FILE PHOTO: A view of the city during a night-time curfew imposed by the Hungarian government as the spread of the coronavirus disease ( COVID-19) continues, in Budapest, Hungary, November 11, 2020. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary has detected a new, more easily transmissible variant of coronavirus first found in Britain, its surgeon general said on Wednesday, a week after the country lifted a ban on passenger flights from the United Kingdom.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government last week extended a partial lockdown in force since early November until the start of next month to help curb the spread of the virus in Hungary as vaccinations get off to a slow start.

Since Nov. 11, all secondary schools have been closed as have hotels and restaurants except for takeaway meals, a 1900 GMT curfew has been in place, and all gatherings have been banned as a second wave of the pandemic hit the country.

“My colleagues have identified the UK virus variant, already found in neighbouring countries, in the samples of three patients,” Surgeon General Cecilia Muller said. “It was obvious that Hungary would not be able to avoid this variant either.”

Despite a recent decline in the number of active cases and hospitalisations, Muller said no easing of the existing restrictions could be recommended.

As of Wednesday, Hungary, with a total population of around 10 million, had reported 345,710 coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, with 10,948 deaths.

Nearly 5,000 people are currently hospitalised with the disease, putting a strain on the healthcare system.

Reporting by Gergely Szakacs and Anita Komuves; Editing by Gareth Jones