Andrej Babis (left) and Viktor Orbán in Budapest – Photo: PMO

Orbán: Swift measures key to saving lives

Babis: Vaccine not political issue

The issue of coronavirus vaccines is not a political one but one of safety, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said after talks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in Budapest on Friday, adding that it was therefore wrong to politicise a vaccine's country of origin. The best vaccine against Covid-19 is one that is safe and available immediately, Babis told a joint press conference, noting however that the Czech Republic does not have at the moment the required contingent of Covid vaccines either.

He said he had received a detailed briefing on Hungary’s virus response measures, including the country’s authorisation of vaccines that have not yet been approved by the European Union. He added that the Czech Republic would follow the example of Hungary with regard to these jabs.

Babis said that they were also briefed about the Hungarian medical officer authority’s pandemic response measures and the use of various therapies.

He said he should have visited Hungary as early as last November, to learn useful information from Hungarian experts as he had learned today.

The Czech prime minister thanked Hungary for offering to his country 150 ventilators.

Answering a question, he noted that although the EU had collectively ordered 2.3 billion doses of vaccines paying 3 billion dollars in advance, deliveries were still sluggish.

“This is why we must act, we don’t have time to wait,” Babis said.

Orbán: Swift measures key to saving lives

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán emphasised the importance of procuring Covid-19 vaccines as quickly as possible. “Those who act quickly will save lives while those who are slow will lose lives,” Orbán told a joint press conference. The prime minister said it was therefore a mistake to wait for Brussels and its “slow” procurement of vaccines.

“We want to learn from each other about how we can speed up vaccine procurement,” the prime minister said after discussing with Babis Hungary’s experiences in purchasing the Russian and Chinese vaccines.

Orbán noted that the Russian and Chinese vaccines were in wide use in Serbia, adding that he and Babis had also shared with one another their information from that country’s experiences with those jabs.

He said Hungarians were remarkably disciplined in terms of adhering to coronavirus-related restrictions in a European comparison, which he said could be related to the government’s decision to conduct a public survey asking the public’s opinion about the lockdown measures.

“This is how it’s going to be in connection with the reopening of the country, too,” he said. Hungarians will again be asked to take part in a nationwide survey running from mid-February until early March. They will be asked, among other questions, whether they believe the country should be reopened gradually or in one go and whether it should cover everyone or just a certain segment of society, Orbán said.

The prime minister added that unlike his Czech colleague, he had the advantage of not having to lead a coalition government, which he said made decision-making smoother.

Orbán said he had also briefed Babis on Hungary’s action plan to reopen the economy.

The prime minister also said that the economies of the Visegrad Group countries were poised to emerge significantly stronger from the coronavirus crisis and “make even bigger gains in the deficit handed to us by history”.

Concerning the Czech Republic, Orbán said it was well known that Babis “was Europe’s best finance minister”. He said their two countries’ good relations were also important for the 15,000 Hungarians living in the Czech Republic.

Orbán noted that the Czech Republic had the lowest jobless rate in Europe, followed by Germany and Hungary in third place.

He also praised the country’s demographic situation, noting that unlike the Hungarian, the Czech population had increased by more than 500,000 over the last 20-30 years.

In response to a question, the prime minister said the important thing now was to procure the vaccines against Covid-19, adding that now was not the time to discuss whether things could have been handled better, quicker or differently in the European Union. “It’s not worth politicising either the issue of the vaccine or the response measures,” Orbán said.

Asked about the Russian vaccine, the prime minister said “time will take care of” the lack of public trust in the jab.

He added that as of right now the number of people registered for vaccination in Hungary as well as the country’s vaccination capacities exceeded the available contingent of vaccines.

“We’re working every day to obtain more and more vaccine doses that meet the Hungarian safety requirements, regardless of where they come from,” the prime minister said.

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