Spa fans flocked to Budapest’s world-famous thermal baths on Saturday as Hungary relaxed lockdown restrictions for people with government-issued vaccination cards.
A queue formed in front of the Szechenyi Baths, one of the largest thermal complexes in Europe, and there were cheers when the doors of the Neo-Renaissance building finally opened to those with vaccination cards.
“You know … some people go to church, others to the pub, while we come here regularly, this has been our way of life,” said Endre Huszar.
Hungary is reopening more of its service economy as its vaccination program exceeds 40%. Among the businesses allowed to reopen after almost six months of lockdown to those with proof of vaccination are hotels, spas, indoor restaurants, theatres, cinemas, gyms, sports venues, swimming pools and museums.
Budapest Zoo has also reopened with a new attraction to greet visitors — a baby elephant born a week ago.
Szechenyi Baths customers were able to enter after a temperature check and are obliged to wear masks except inside the pools, steam rooms and saunas.
“It was really bad, you know, we almost had withdrawal symptoms, we were really depressed … sitting in front of the TV all the time and not moving,” said Marika Horvath, sitting in one of the pools.
The hot springs along the Danube River in Budapest date back to Roman times. In the 16th century, they developed into a spa culture during the Turkish occupation.
Hungary has recorded over 27,700 deaths linked to coronavirus which is the highest cumulative per capita toll in the world, according to worldometers.info.
However, the third wave of infections is slowly receding and this, coupled with Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s massive vaccination drive, has allowed a gradual reopening of the economy.
Orban, who faces his first tight election race in 2022 since assuming power over a decade ago, has leveraged the rapid vaccine rollout to try to shore up his support base and reopen the economy as fast as possible.