The fifth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic fuelled by the Omicron variant has hit Hungary, a top official announced.

Bela Merkely, rector of Semmelweis Medical University in Budapest and leader of the Clinical Epidemiology Working Group, said said that since the Omicron variant is highly contagious, tens of thousands of new cases can be expected in the country in the coming days and weeks, reports Xinhua news agency.

"The Omicron variant typically causes only mild upper respiratory infections in vaccinated people -- runny nose, sore throat, headache and fever lasting for a day or two," he explained, warning that the hospitalization rate for unvaccinated people may increase.

"The proportion of serious cases is likely to be lower than in the third and fourth waves," he said.

Vaccination against coronavirus is the only way to significantly reduce the chances of being hospitalised, Merkely said, stressing that three vaccine doses offer high protection.

Virologist Miklos Rusvai said he expected the number of new daily cases to break all previous records during the fifth wave.

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Hungary: People wearing face masks are seen on the elevator of a subway station in Budapest, Hungary on Sept. 10, 2020. (Photo by Attila Volgyi/Xinhua/IANS)IANS

"I think that in the fifth wave, we may see over 15,000 new cases per day," he told Xinhua.

"However, I expect the number of severe cases, hospitalizations, or deaths to be lower than that recorded during the third wave," he said.

The fourth coronavirus wave caused the largest number of infections but fewer deaths and hospitalisations than the third one, as larger parts of the population had already been inoculated, Rusvai said.

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The Omicron variant has significantly more mutations than the other variants, which make it super-contagious, but in the long run and on the global scale this could in fact be good news as the variant will infect many people and immunise them, but will not send them to ventilators, Rusvai said.

Omicron will thus "push out" the Delta variant, which is much more lethal.

Rusvai told Xinhua that he expected the fifth wave to peak in February and then to bottom out by the autumn. "Such viruses usually become weaker over time, turning into a cold-like disease."

He said that the Omicron variant posed a threat mainly to the unvaccinated people, but it was less severe than the Delta variant.

Hungary has so far reported 1,282,957 Covid cases and 39,780 deaths, while 1,137,648 people have recovered.

Currently, 3,070 patients are being treated in hospitals, including 291 on ventilators.

Till date, 6,278,355 people have received at least the first vaccine dose, 6,006,178 others were fully jabbed and 3,217,724 got their booster doses.