Vaccinated, Maskless Crowds Enjoy Christmas Markets in Budapest

Traditional Christmas markets have opened in Budapest’s main squares only for people vaccinated against COVID-19, but have drawn many tourists and locals alike even as central Europe battles a renewed surge of the coronavirus.

There were no festive outdoor markets in Budapest a year ago as Hungary was in complete lockdown against the virus, before any vaccines were available.

“It’s great to have the market back. It was very depressing when I visited the square last year – it was decorated but there were no people,” said Adrienn, bundled up in a black fur coat against the subzero cold in front of the Hungarian capital’s neo-classical St. Stephen’s Basilica.

The market in the basilica’s square sells Hungarian handicraft products, traditional foods like “chimney cake”, a sweet delicacy, and even offers a small rink under its Christmas tree for ice skaters.

Visitors lined up at checkpoints to show their COVID-19 vaccination or immunity certificates before entering the market, as required by current regulations.

“I completely agree that only the vaccinated should be able to enter,” said Ibolya Koszegi, another local visitor. “Maybe more people should wear their masks as well. It’s very hard to keep a distance from others as there are so many people here.”

Masks are mandatory only in indoor public spaces in Hungary, and only a small fraction of visitors opted to wear them at the outdoor market as they walked around sipping tea or mulled wine.

Many of them were tourists who flocked to Budapest as some other central European countries shut down their Christmas markets in efforts to curb resurging COVID-19 contagion and boost lagging vaccine take-up.

Markets in the Czech capital Prague were cancelled while in Vienna, the Austrian capital about two hours away overland from Budapest, they are expected to open only on Monday after a two-week lockdown.

With Hungary fighting a fourth wave of COVID-19, visitors at events with more than 500 participants must show proof of vaccination or immunity after recovery from infection. Restaurants, shops, malls and schools remain open for everyone.

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