If the results are good, we may be "free" around Christmas time, Orbán said – Photo: MTVA

Orbán: 'We must hold out until vaccine arrives'

Face masks now mandatory in all public spaces

"We must hold out in the fight against coronavirus until a vaccine is delivered," Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in an interview with public news channel M1, in which he also announced that face masks will be made mandatory in all public spaces from midnight on Tuesday.

The vaccine is now in sight and it will be the only solution against the virus, Orbán said.

Hungary will receive doses of a Covid-19 vaccine from the European Union and possibly from other places as well from late December and January, he said.

Orbán said he expects those doses to be enough to vaccinate doctors, nurses, hospital staff, those working to uphold the public order and possibly patients in the most critical condition.

The prime minister added that he was also trying to keep the options for importing a vaccine from China, Russia or Israel “on the table”.

Hungary is not expected to begin importing large quantities of the vaccine from Europe before April but may import mass quantities of it from elsewhere while receiving smaller quantities from Europe, he said.

“There will be a partial relief in late December or January and Hungary will be free [of the pandemic] in April,” Orbán said. “We will get over it in the end and we will achieve victory,” he said.

The prime minister reiterated that Austria “is our laboratory” when it comes to the measures Hungary implements. Hungary is roughly a week behind Austria in terms of its case numbers, noting that Hungary’s western neighbour introduced a curfew last week.

Hungary and Austria “are doing well” compared with western Europe, where a daytime curfew is also in place, he said. Hungary, Austria and Germany have the largest reserves of hospital beds on the continent and Hungary has the largest reserve of ventilators overall, he added.

Citing estimates by scientists, Orbán said that taking into account the number of doctors and nurses in the country, there was a 50 percent chance that Hungary would be able to continue coping with the epidemic if the current rate of new cases continues. “This is too big a risk, so we had to introduce new restrictions,” he said.

Hungary has “just about an unlimited supply” of protective equipment, Orbán said, adding that the country had “excellent” doctors and nurses “but their numbers are limited and they are also human”.

He said Hungary would also enlist the help of medics and medical students in the fight against the virus, as “there are fewer people than what would be optimal for the number of patients we have.”

Orbán also said that had it not been for the public’s discipline in observing the restrictions that had been in place until now, the government would have had to introduce a curfew sooner.

The prime minister also announced that face masks would be made mandatory in all public spaces from midnight on Tuesday.

Asked if the government was concerned about large crowds assembling in places like grocery stores because of the curfew, Orbán conceded that this was a concern but added that they trusted the public to observe social distancing rules.

“We all like to go to the library, the cinema, the theatre or matches but this is totally secondary right now,” Orbán said.

As regards the closure of secondary schools, Orbán said students would be switching to digital classes, “not being sent on vacation”.

Primary schools will be kept open for as long as possible, he said, pointing out that otherwise parents would have to stay home with their children and change their work schedules “if they could keep their jobs at all”.

Orbán asked parents to talk to their children about the virus and the responsibility they have in protecting those more vulnerable to it.

Concerning the regular testing of teachers and school, kindergarten and nursery staff, Orbán said that if their antigen tests came back positive, it would be 90 percent reliable whereas a negative result was only 50-60 percent reliable.

“All we can do for now is make this uncertain but in some ways reliable rapid test available,” the prime minister said, adding that there would be enough testing kits to screen workers at social institutions.

Orbán said he was waiting to see the conclusions that could be drawn from Slovakia’s countrywide testing so that they could be incorporated into Hungary’s epidemic response measures.

Concerning the curfew and the latest round of restrictions, Orbán said the new measures would be in place for one month and he would be able to report back on their effectiveness in two weeks’ time.

“If the results are good, we may be free around Christmas time,” he said.

“So, right now hotels, restaurants and leisure centres will miss out on revenue for 30 days and the government will provide them with relief for that period of time,” Orbán said.

“Once we’re through this, we’ll shift our focus to rebooting the economy,” the prime minister said, adding that the government will enact new relief measures for every economic sector after the 30-day period is up.

“We must survive while also having jobs, money and saving lives and our health,” he said.

On the topic of the “special legal order” that entered into force last week, Orbán said that although parliament was scheduled to debate “dozens of bills including constitutional amendment proposals” over the coming days, “in the West they’ll still say that we’ve become a dictatorship.”

As regards infection rates, Orbán said that Hungary had 11,745 Covid-19 cases per million people compared with the EU average of 18,188. In terms of fatalities, Hungary has 255 deaths per million people compared with the EU average of 437, he added.

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