Gulyas: All vaccines used in Hungary safe

Digital immunity certificate to meet EU requirements

Although they show minor differences, all coronavirus vaccines distributed in Hungary are safe, and the government calls on all Hungarians to register and accept a vaccine, the prime minister's chief of staff said on Thursday. On the subject of immunity certificates, Gulyas said the digital version of the Hungarian document will meet all European Union regulations on digital Covid-19 certificates by June 15.

Gergely Gulyas told a regular online press briefing that of the nearly 3.7 million fully vaccinated Hungarians, over 8,100 have contracted Covid-19, and 524 of them have died.

So far, 54 percent of Hungarians have been inoculated, bringing the country to the cusp of herd immunity, Gulyas said. Including those who have gained immunity by recovering from the disease, immunity in the country may be as high as 65-70 percent, he added.

Hungary currently has a surplus of all vaccines, and those registering now will be able to get any of the jabs in a short time, he said.

Those who have received their jabs have the best protection possible against the virus, he said.

Meanwhile, the third wave seems to have subsided, and infection numbers are nearing those seen last summer, he said.

On the subject of immunity certificates, Gulyas said the digital version of the Hungarian document will meet all European Union regulations on digital Covid-19 certificates by June 15. The digital version of the Hungarian certificate, in line with EU regulations, will show the type of vaccine administered and the dates of the jabs, he added.

He said Hungary’s immunity certificate currently provided the largest freedom in Europe because agreements have been made with 11 countries about its recognition. Meanwhile, Romania has rated Hungary as a green zone country, he said.

Based on its infection data, Hungary expects that EU countries will see it as “posing no risk at all”, he said.

EU countries are mandated to accept all vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), and are at liberty to decide to accept others, Gulyas said.

Hungary has concluded agreements with several (non-EU) countries to accept all vaccines used in Hungary, including the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, which has been approved for emergency use by the WHO, and Russia’s Sputnik V jab, Gulyas said.

“Hungary expects near-total freedom of travel within the EU, unless infection rates and low inoculation numbers in other countries raise cause for concern,” Gulyas said.

Meanwhile, Hungary will use part of its surplus vaccine stock to inoculate Transcarpathia Hungarians, who are the only Hungarian community across the borders without access to the vaccine, he said.

Regarding economic performance, Gulyas said that Hungary’s economy, which contracted by 4.9-5 percent in 2020, was among the best-performing EU member states after the coronavirus pandemic.

The government is working to help the economy rebound from the economic fallout as soon as this year, Gulyas said. Restarting the economy is a key milestone in leaving coronavirus-related difficulties behind, he said.

The government will announce several measures to that end in the coming period, he said.

One of those steps will be to allocate a further 3.8 billion forints  (EUR 11.0m) for reconstructing minor roads in small localities, and to fund local authorities’ tenders for revamping roads and sidewalks with a further 20 billion forints, he said.

Local infrastructure developments are among the key projects in the government’s bid to relaunch the economy, he said, adding that bidders for the tenders included both pro-government and opposition councils.

Government spokeswoman Alexandra Szentkiralyi said that starting next week, government pressers will be held in person rather than online.

In response to a question, the Gulyas said that immunity certificates will remain mandatory to enjoy certain services for a period depending on the level of coronavirus infection in Hungary.

Commenting on a proposal that the improving pandemic figures could be the grounds to lift the state of special legal order during the summer, he said “we will maintain the state of special legal order only until it is necessary”.

He added that the same applied to the mandatory use of masks and other protective measures, which he said would only stay in force until necessary.

He warned, however, that despite a slow-down in the spread of the virus and a radical drop in the number of infected and deaths, the virus “is still with us”.

Regarding immunity certificates, Gulyas said “We’ll see what rules individual countries approve but there will be no technical obstacle to the use of EU immunity certificates in Hungary” or the use of Hungarian immunity certificates as an EU-approved document after July 1, he added.

He said Hungary had signed agreements about the acceptance of immunity certificates with 12 countries and the number will hopefully increase further. The government’s position is that English-language certificates issued by these countries will have to be accepted in Hungary and the necessary regulations will be introduced shortly, he said.

In response to a question concerning a vaccine plant to be set up in Debrecen, he said the plant will primarily produce Hungarian vaccine but it will also manufacture other vaccines on contract, including western and eastern products.

Gulyas said several hundred thousand doses of vaccines were still on stock. These might be needed in the future because a third booster shot might become necessary. At the same time, Hungary will help out countries where the vaccination rate is not as good as in Hungary, he added.

Two million Hungarians remain unprotected from Covid-19, as they have not taken the vaccine and have not recovered from hte disease, he said. They are encouraged to get vaccinated, even if it is not mandatory but a matter of taking responsibility, he added.

Allowing private health-care providers to administer vaccines is “not feasible for the time being”, Gulyas said.

He said a mobile hospital in Kiskunhalas had been closed effective May 31 because its operation had become unnecessary. Commenting on ventilators left in store, he said they were reserve stock which would hopefully not be needed but “it’s best to have them available just in case”.

Doctors and nurses have received substantial wage hikes under the incumbent government, and plans are under discussion to offer them extra holidays as an expression of appreciation.

Commenting on the recent arrest of a Hungarian Islamist youth planning a terrorist attack, Gulyas said it was a good sign that the Hungarian authorities had interfered in the preparatory phase and made every effort to ensure everyone’s security.

In response to a question concerning the appointment of Major General Romulusz Ruszin-Szendi as head of the Hungarian Armed Froces, he said the change in leadership was not sudden or extraordinary. Former Army Commander Ferenc Korom had asked to be relieved from his post, which was accepted by the president and his deputy left because he took a job at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, he said.

Commenting on a bill concerning child sexual abuse, he said the new regulations would make an existing registry of paedophiles public.

Asked about a proposal by Budapest’s 9th district local council to rename streets around the site of a new campus for China’s Fudan University, Gulyas said it was “childish, but at least funny” that the mayor had chosen “diplomatically sensitive street names to try to provoke China”.

“If this is what the metropolitan council and the 9th district want to do to express their political ideas, then all I can do is wish them the best of luck with it,” he said.

As regards a potential visit to China by the prime minister, Gulyas said that although Viktor Orban had an invitation to the country and an autumn visit was on the cards, “this has nothing to do with Fudan University”.

“Fudan University’s Budapest campus is on the drawing board but no substantive decision has been made yet, so there’s no reason for the uproar on the left,” Gulyas said. “Once the plans are finalised, the government will be able to decide whether or not it supports the project.”

Gulyas said former Socialist prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany had been the first to propose elevating Hungary’s higher education cooperation with China to the highest level.

Commenting on Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony’s claim that he had received multiple calls from ruling party politicians urging him not to run in the opposition’s prime ministerial primary, Gulyas said he considered the remark “a part of the mayor’s three-week political ordeal”. “The way Gergely Karacsony tries to dodge journalists and runs from one lie into the next comes off as particularly pathetic,” Gulyas said.

Asked about the US spying row involving Denmark, Gulyas said the government regretted that such a thing could happen among allied countries. He added, at the same time, that the affair had not been the first of its kind, noting that the US had been caught bugging German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone in 2014.

Every country has its own national security and intelligence interests, but it would be preferable if they could draw a line between their allies and other countries when it comes to choosing their targets, Gulyas said.

On another subject, Gulyas noted that Hungary was one of five EU countries that has decided not to join the newly launched European public prosecutor’s office (EPPO). He said the reason for this was that there were certain areas where greater integration would be harmful to national sovereignty.

Gulyas also said that the head of the EPPO, Laura Kovesi, was unfit to lead the office, arguing that her appointment would hurt the effectiveness of the organisation after she had “prosecuted Hungarian politicians in Romania based on trumped-up charges” and she herself had been prosecuted.

Asked about European commissioner Vera Jourova’s announcement that the commission was set to activate the bloc’s rule-of-law conditionality mechanism against Hungary and Poland in the second half of the year, which could result in the suspension of funding for the two countries, Gulyas said Jourova was unfit for her post because of her “anti-Hungarian views”. He said Jourova, who in the past had been “in pre-trail detention for corruption”, was “berating Hungary and Poland to win over the good graces of the liberal media and to keep her past a secret.”

As regards the planned reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, Gulyas said that although the bloc’s 27 agriculture ministers could come to an agreement on the new policy on their own, the European Parliament “has completely absurd demands that go against the interests of the agriculture sector”.

Commenting on EP President David Sassoli’s recent remark that EU institutions will not turn their back on the migrants in need of rescue in the Mediterranean, Gulyas said it was “comments like this” that were to blame for the plight of migrants hoping to reach Europe. Unless Europe makes it clear that it will defend its external borders and decides not to let illegal migrants onto its territory, more and more people will risk their lives on their trek towards the continent, he insisted.

“We continue to be on the side of providing help, but help should be provided at the point where it is needed instead of bringing trouble over here,” Gulyas said.

Asked what sort of diplomatic steps Hungary has taken in response to the forced landing of a Ryanair jet in Belarus last month, Gulyas said Hungary had protested the incident and joined an EU declaration condemning it.

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