Tens of thousands of soccer fans packed Budapest’s Puskas Arena last week to watch Euro 2020 matches. It was Europe’s first full-house international soccer event in more than a year, made possible in large part by Hungary’s adoption of government-issued immunity cards.
Hungary, the only one of the tournament’s ten host countries to allow full stadium crowds, has carried out one of Europe’s most successful COVID-19 vaccination drives. The immunity cards attest to the bearers’ receipt of at least one vaccine dose or recovery from COVID-19, and they grant them access to sporting events as well as services and venues such as hotels, spas, concerts, theaters, and indoor restaurant dining.
While the cards have allowed many people to reclaim many aspects of their pre-pandemic lives, others are concerned that their use will have an impact on fundamental rights.
“There was a lot of fear in society about potential discrimination,” said one observer “Amnesty International Hungary’s director, David Vig, agreed. “(The government) stated, ‘There will be a distinction between those who have the vaccination card and those who do not.'”
Hungary’s purchase of vaccines from Russia and China, as well as the European Union, quickly propelled it to the second highest vaccination rate in the 27-member bloc, trailing only Malta. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, more than 66 percent of adults have received at least one dose of a vaccine.
However, because the majority of those willing to be vaccinated have already received a shot, the rate of vaccination has slowed dramatically in recent weeks. According to government statistics, approximately 2 million people still do not have an immunity card, which prevents them from taking advantage of many opportunities available to cardholders.
According to Vig, the government’s strategy of providing incentives for immunization is based on these continued restrictions for the unvaccinated. “From the government’s perspective, the vaccination card and the strategy behind it were both good. That is, it pushed people to get vaccinated “He stated.
However, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union argued in an April statement that the cards discriminate against those who “cannot be vaccinated temporarily or permanently due to their state of health.” “Women in certain stages of pregnancy, for example, or those with chronic conditions that make vaccination contraindicated.
Those people, as well as others who were unable to complete the mandatory online vaccine registration due to a lack of internet access, face discrimination, according to the group.
While more than 60,000 fans were allowed into the Puskas Arena for Euro 2020 matches last week, Hungary’s government has continued to restrict other public events, such as protests, for those without immunity cards, citing pandemic concerns.
Several thousand people protested in Budapest in early June against right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s plans to establish a Chinese university in the city. In order to avoid rules that limit outdoor events to 500 people for non-cardholders, protest organizers divided the march into several smaller groups.
These are the kinds of incidents, according to Vig, that show how the government has used pandemic and immunity cards to restrict fundamental rights despite dramatically improving pandemic indicators in recent weeks.
“More than 50-55 percent of society had already been vaccinated, (but) demonstrations were still impossible… That is a very clear violation of international human rights standards,” Vig said, adding that such protest restrictions were later lifted.
“The government has the authority to restrict these rights for a limited period of time if necessary and if the restrictions are proportionate to… the goal that they wish to achieve, but not for an indefinite or indefinite period of time,” he said.
Akos Sipos, 45, a Budapest web analyst, said he is uncomfortable showing his personal identification alongside his immunity card when entering public places because it gives those checking the card access to his personal information.
“I don’t think it’s a good thing if I have to show my ID to a security guard just to eat pizza somewhere,” Sipos told reporters.
“They have no right to know when I was born” or any other personal information, he claims.
Nonetheless, he agreed that such measures were necessary to keep the pandemic under control.
“I saw the whole card thing as a necessary evil,” he explained. “Those who have been immunized must be tracked in some way.”