null Message from the Minority Ombudsman on the challenges of the fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic

The fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic has hit our country with great force, posing a new challenge for our socially vulnerable, disadvantaged fellow citizens, among them many Roma people. As the Deputy Commissioner for the Protection of the Rights of Nationalities in Hungary, I would like to draw attention to the fact that the competent state and local government bodies have a duty to take effective and targeted action, while individuals can contribute to the rapid resolution of the critical situation by assuming responsibility towards each other, especially by taking up vaccination.

In my General Comment No. 4/2020, issued exactly one year ago I also drew attention to the fact that the coronavirus pandemic could have particularly serious consequences for people living – regardless of the epidemic situation – in difficult housing and social conditions in the deprived regions of the country, a large proportion of whom belong to the Roma community. Providing healthy food, vitamins and infrastructure needed to avoid illness, and access to appropriate and non-discriminatory healthcare when it does occur, as well as the necessary medicines, often pose insurmountable challenges. The situation is exacerbated by the low vaccination rate in many communities, mainly linked to fear of vaccination and false beliefs based on pseudo-news.

The President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the Secretary and the Presidency of the Hungarian Medical Chamber have recently published publications and professional statements to draw the attention of the public and decision-makers to the serious challenges posed by the fourth wave, and have formulated professional recommendations on the necessary measures. Advocacy organisations are also active in helping to monitor and improve the current situation, and forty NGOs have launched an open letter and a petition to urge public authorities to take action.

In agreement with professional and civil society organisations, I call on all stakeholders, especially those in decision-making positions in public and local government, to give priority to supporting the communities most in need at this exceptionally trying time of our life. It is the duty and responsibility of the relevant state and local authorities and their health and social services to identify and reach members of vulnerable groups, to educate those affected and to provide the necessary assistance. In the light of the above, I consider the following measures to be particularly important.

To optimise access to mass vaccination, the final abolition of registration and the deployment of vaccination buses and mobile vaccination points in deprived settlements are of key importance. In order to reach those affected, awareness-raising campaigns should be organised on a national scale, accessible even in the smallest municipalities, to present the importance of vaccination in a way that is understandable and convincing to the community concerned, and to take a strong stance against disinformation and the spread of fake news. Consideration should be given to continuous antibody screening of at-risk and elderly populations and to improving access to medicines for diagnosed infected persons in order to break the chain of infection.

There is also a need to develop targeted social crisis programmes focused on helping the most disadvantaged communities. In this context, a targeted strengthening of the resources of local authorities would be essential, as in disadvantaged communities they may be the ones with direct access to the most vulnerable.

In addition to the above, I express my appreciation and thanks to all persons working actively on-site: health workers, social workers, civil and advocacy activists as well as church workers who are contributing with tremendous energy, patience and perseverance to control the pandemic. Their work is invaluable in identifying and recognising the needs of those in need and in mitigating the damage caused by the pandemic. We can all be helpers and partners in meeting the challenges: taking up vaccination and taking responsibility for each other can literally save lives in these difficult times. 

During the vaccination campaign week, which starts today and runs until Sunday, everyone has the opportunity to get their first, missed second or third vaccination to boost immunity at any of 101 vaccination centres without booking an appointment. I urge everyone who can, to take advantage of this opportunity and help others to get a life-saving vaccine!

Budapest, 22 November, 2021.

                                Prof. Elisabeth Sándor-Szalay
                                       Minority Ombudsman