Photo: MTI

Authorities to be "much stricter and more consistent" in enforcing the restrictions

Coronavirus: Swift response needed

Fighting the coronavirus epidemic requires "quickness and an ability to respond", which justifies the government's reintroduction of a special legal order, the head of the Prime Minister's Office told a press conference following a cabinet meeting. Concerning the curfew and the restrictions on public events, Gulyas said that the authorities would be "much stricter and more consistent" in enforcing the restrictions.

Gulyas said shops, restaurant and club owners had “a great responsibility”, warning that facilities could be closed if proprietors were unable to enforce the rules on their premises.

Gulyas expressed hope that the new measures would be effective in slowing the spread of the virus. He added, at the same time, that the real solution to the epidemic would be a vaccine. “But until then it’s important that the spread of the virus can be slowed by complying with these regulations,” he said.

Gulyas also said that the operative board in charge of coronavirus-related measures would meet at 6am daily or every other day in future, with the prime minister attending. The cabinet will meet once a week, he added.

Fighting the epidemic requires “quickness and an ability to respond”, which justifies the government’s reintroduction of a special legal order, he said.

Gergely Gulyas said that the situation was deteriorating globally and especially in Europe, and “Hungary is no exception”. He added, however, that Hungary was 10th out of the European Union’s 27 member states in terms of the number of infections, while Hungary’s mortality rate was “about half of the EU average”. Still, he said, more and more people need hospitalisation in Hungary, with their number likely to exceed 5,000 on Wednesday.

Gulyas said the government would propose that parliament should extend the special legal order, introduced now for 15 days, by another 90 days. He appealed to the opposition to support the motion, saying that “if they do not contribute to prevention efforts they should not keep thwarting them”.

In response to a question, Gulyas said all of the government’s measures, with the exception of the rule on the closure of entertainment venues, served the protection of the elderly. He noted that Katalin Novak, the minister for family affairs, had convened the Council of the Elderly on Monday with the aim of involving the elderly in the government’s decisions.

Asked what the prime minister had meant on Tuesday when he said Hungary’s hospitals could be pushed to the limits of their capacity by December, Gulyas said 32,000 of the country’s 66,000-67,000 hospital beds could be occupied by coronavirus patients by the middle of next month. Hospitals could make more beds available by suspending non-urgent procedures, he said. Certain hospitals have already postponed them and the government could order all hospitals to do the same, he added.

Hungary has enough hospital beds, staff, nurses and doctors at its disposal, he said, adding that there were also plans to enlist junior and senior medical students as assistants.

Asked about the capacities of the health-care system, Gulyas said that even according to the most pessimistic estimates, the number of patients who would need to be put on ventilators was not expected to exceed 10,000.

Asked about the new restrictions, Gulyas said the government was prepared to introduce more if necessary.

He said the decision to close entertainment venues was modeled after practices seen elsewhere in Europe.

Asked about coronavirus testing procedures, he said Hungary was carrying out tests in accordance with the protocols recommended by the World Health Organisation while keeping an eye on a variety of testing practices, including the countrywide testing operation in Slovakia.

Asked if schools would have to be closed, Gulyas said the government believed the latest round of restrictions would be enough to slow the epidemic and schools could stay open. No further restrictions are required in the public education system, he said, noting that the country must continue to function.

Gulyas also reiterated that teachers who were forced to stay home due to being infected with the virus were entitled to their full salary during sick leave.

He also said that the government had not consulted the Budapest municipal council or any of the major localities before deciding on the new measures.

In response to another question, Gulyas said he had spoken to Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, who has tested positive for coronavirus during official engagements in Asia. The minister is feeling well and is expected to return to Hungary by plane, Gulyas said.

Asked about the organisation of soccer matches, the PM’s Office chief said they would be going ahead, arguing that the risk of infection was considerably lower outdoors than in enclosed spaces. He reaffirmed stadiums that violate or fail to enforce the regulations would be closed. If the rules are broken in too many stadiums, the matches will be held behind closed doors, he added.

Gulyas also said that the reintroduction of the special legal order also meant that by-elections would be cancelled across the country.

He said the reason why parliament has been asked to extend the special legal order by 90 days was because as things currently stand this time frame appears to be enough to slow the spread of the virus. Lawmakers may lift the special legal order earlier, he added.

Gulyas said that after receiving criticism from the opposition for not providing a time frame for the special legal order in the spring, the government hoped that this time it would win the backing of the opposition parties as well.

Asked about recent comments by a European Commission spokesperson coronavirus vaccines obtained from outside the European Union must comply with the bloc’s quality standards and approval procedures, Gulyas said Hungary was keeping tabs on the development of Covid-19 vaccines in the United States, Russia and China. The vaccine purchased by Hungary would not be put on the market, he said. The vaccine would be procured by the state and be made available to the public free of charge, he added.

Asked if the government had any plans to expand the powers of mayors in the interest of defending against the epidemic, Gulyas said that mayors would have the authority to exercise the powers of the local assemblies under the special legal order.

In response to another question, he said it was estimated to take 8-14 days for the government’s new measures to have an effect on the epidemic.

Concerning flu vaccinations, Gulyas said the government had originally ordered 1.4 million vaccines and had placed orders for more which were expected to arrive within a month and a half to two months.

Asked about the government’s decision to subsidise the purchase of green public transport vehicles for Budapest, Gulyas said the municipal council had 65 billion forints (EUR 178m) in the form of a credit line provided by the European Investment Bank, adding that it was up to the city’s mayor to decide whether or not he wants to approve the procurements.

Thanks to government support, 1,052 new metro trains, trams, buses and trolley buses can enter service in Budapest by 2022, he said.

Gulyas criticised a recent municipality decree which allows a free public distribution of newspapers with at least four pages of its content prepared “by Mayor Karacsony’s propagandists”, insisting that even the pre-democratic Kadar regime had been “more shy when it came to limiting press freedom”.

As regards the situation of tourism in Budapest, Gulyas said the sector needed new business schemes that support domestic tourism. Answering a question in connection with the central government’s introduction of a curfew between midnight and 5am, Gulyas said there were no obstacles to operating minimal public transport capacity in Budapest for the curfew’s duration. The other measures of free parking and more frequent services are aimed at reducing crowds on public transport, he said.

Commenting on the US presidential election, Gulyas said: “We supported Donald Trump, whereas Joe Biden has been supported by George Soros which is not such a great starting point.”

Asked about Monday’s terrorist attack in Vienna, Gulyas said that “everything that is happening underscores the correctness of the Visegrad Group’s position on migration”. He added that Hungary’s national security services have been fully prepared to draw the necessary conclusions from the attack and take all necessary precautions to avoid such incidents. “The most effective way to avoid such events is to continue the government’s anti-migration policy of the past years,” Gulyas said. Hungary condemns any form of violence, Gulyas said, adding that “it is the duty of every organisation, institution and political party of the EU to take a clear position on these matters.” “Violence cannot be a tool in any form,” he said.

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