Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (left) and Gergely Gulyás, the head of the Prime Minister's Office in Parliament. (Photo: MTI)

Health, politics begin return to normal

Emergency powers lifted

Parliament has terminated the emergency powers handed to the government in March in response to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus epidemic. The law submitted by Gergely Gulyás, the head of the Prime Minister's Office, required a two-thirds majority of MPs in attendance and was approved by 192-0 votes.

Gulyás thanked everyone who had contributed to the coronavirus response efforts, but lamented that “the left failed to participate in this” and that the situation had not brought about unity in Hungary’s political life. “The rules of the Hungarian constitution are clear,” Gulyás said. “The government in this situation had special powers to pass laws but this is now over.”

He said: “We’ve got through the first wave [of the epidemic]. We don’t know if there’ll be a second one, but the operative board will remain active and the provisions passed into law will remain in place.”

Gulyás said Hungarians would get a chance to give their opinions on the government’s response to the pandemic in the coming nationwide “national consultation” survey. “The state of emergency is over but until a vaccine is developed certain measures will have to remain in place.”

He said the government will continue to keep parliament updated about the status of the pandemic. The state of epidemiological preparedness does not compare to the state of emergency as it largely only applies to health-care-related measures, Gulyás added. The government had not yet decided on whether it will change the rules on special shopping times for elderly people.

Contrary to reports by left-wing and international media outlets during the state of emergency that Hungary’s parliament was not meeting, Gulyás said it had actually been the European Parliament and the Budapest assembly that had suspended their sessions.

“Several left-wing mayors took advantage of the situation” in the recent period and “while they demand transparency from the left, when in power they’re the ones who are the least transparent”, he asserted. Today “it is only natural” that a left-wing local council is not transparent but civil rights groups “never bring this up”.

Fireworks ‘danger’ to chain bridge

The mayor of Budapest, Gergely Karácsony, has said his administration opposes fireworks on or around Chain Bridge on the August 20 St Stephen’s Day national holiday. Karácsony said the engineering report on plans to renovate the bridge indicated that fireworks over recent years had contributed to its deterioration. He accused the Fidesz government of planning to “occupy half the city” for its own propaganda purposes between August 15 and 20. Karácsony said the central government would spend more on spectacles then than its proposed contribution to the bridge’s renovation. “six billion forints for Chain Bridge, 6.5 billion for the parade and that doesn’t even include the cost of the fireworks,” he said. The government information centre said in response that the series of events around St. Stephen’s Day were to boost tourism, with a gastronomy festival, open-air concerts, a parade, waterfront concerts and family programmes. “the aim is to celebrate Hungary’s birthday,” the centre said, adding that people working in tourism, hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, were receiving government assistance. Central government funding for the renovation of chain bridge is still available, it added.

Europe must never again be strategically vulnerable: Szijjártó

One of the lessons Europe can take away from the coronavirus pandemic is that it must never again allow itself to be vulnerable to external players when it comes to strategic matters, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó has said after a meeting of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council.

The EU’s strategic capacities should not be boiled down to a question of money, Szijjártó said. “The protective equipment needed in extraordinary times is obviously not needed in times of peace … This is a strategic rather than a financial matter,” he said, adding that hopefully the EU and the US would boost their cooperation in this area. Szijjártó also called for the EU to pursue a “pragmatic foreign policy” with regard to the US.

Wastewater ‘safer’

The Covid-19 virus genetic material is less present in samples from three wastewater treatment plants in Budapest, the National Public Health Institute has said. The concentration of Covid-19 RNA has shown a downward trend that suggests case numbers are not very likely to increase in the next 1-2 weeks, the authority said.

EU institutions, he said, should not habitually comment on America’s domestic political affairs and criticise its foreign policy measures. The EU should stay out of the US presidential election next November. Szijjártó said the meeting had also touched on US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, noting that the bloc had no unified position on the matter.

The minister called on the European Union to scrap the limit on the amount of funding that member states can provide in support for investments by companies, arguing that doing so would be crucial for job creation amid the economic downturn caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Szijjártó said the Hungarian government agreed with Austria’s proposal for the EU to allow member states to support investments in their own territories from their state budgets without limits. “We consider it completely unnecessary to uphold limitations on state support for investments during these times.”

Hospital visit ban ends

The chief medical officer has lifted a restriction banning visitors from hospitals due to coronavirus. The National Public Health Centre said the ban remains in wards where Covid-19 patients are treated. Also, visitors must be healthy, wear a face mask and keep two metres away from patients other than the person they are visiting.

It was only possible to save jobs and create new ones through new investments, which he said needed government support. “Unfortunately EU institutions are just as slow as they had been before the pandemic. We’ve been talking to Brussels about this for over a month and a half but we still haven’t received permission or a reply.”

Szijjártó said central Europe had successfully completed the first phase of implementing protection measures against the pandemic thanks in large part to strong cooperation among the region’s countries. Now the focus must shift to the economic response, and the aim was to ensure that this aspect of the pandemic response measures was equally successful.

End to film hold-ups

Filmmaking in Hungary will soon fully resume once coronavirus-related restrictions are lifted, the government commissioner for motion pictures, Csaba Káel, has said in business Daily Világgazdaság. Hungary has not imposed a ban on the shooting of international co-productions and Hungarian films, most of which however suffered delays due to general restrictions related to the epidemic, Káel said. The shooting of 10 state-funded feature-length films will start this year and post-production is under way for another 16, the paper said. The shooting of international co-productions was expected to be resumed in line with the lifting of travel restrictions. Films under production in Hungary include showtime’s “Halo”, Netflix’s “Terra Vision”, Denis Villeneuve’s epic sci-fi “Dune”, Tristar’s “The Nightingale” and American drama “Birds of Paradise”.

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