UPDATE 1-Hungary's hospitals nearing limits as COVID-19 cases surge, doctors say
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BUDAPEST, March 16 (Reuters) - Hungary's COVID-19 cases are expected to rise further in the weeks ahead, Surgeon General Cecilia Muller said on Tuesday, as doctors warned the local health system was entering its most critical period for half a century.
The Hungarian Medical Chamber said in a statement that the pandemic situation was "critical" and the healthcare system could reach its limits any time.
As of Tuesday, Hungary had reported 529,122 cases and 17,226 deaths from COVID-19. More than 1,000 people are on ventilators, straining hospitals.
Muller told an online briefing that some hospitals had to involve additional departments in treating COVID-19 patients because of a recent surge in new cases.
"All of our epidemiological figures are unfolding unfavourably," Muller said. Budapest's main COVID-19 hospital, the Del-Pesti Centrum Hospital, has declined to give an interview to Reuters.
Earlier this month, about 4,000 medical workers quit the public health system over reforms begun by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government, aggravating a years-long shortage of medical staff during the third wave of the pandemic.
Muller said Hungary would follow the advice of the World Health Organisation and the European Medicines Agency over AstraZeneca's AZN.L vaccine. Some European Union member states have stopped administering the shot because of concern over possible side effects.
She said evidence so far has shown that the benefits of getting the vaccine outweigh any possible drawbacks, such as the formation of blood clots, itself a symptom of COVID-19.
Hungary, which has a population of 10 million, has inoculated 1.35 million people so far. Muller said vaccinations would continue with additional doses of Chinese Sinopharm's and Russia's Sputnik V shots after local health regulators gave clearance to the vaccines.
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs and Anita Komuves; editing by Larry King)
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