Photo: MTI / Lajos Soós

Gergely Gulyas underlined the importance of wearing face masks

Government extends temporary border controls for another month

Hungary's government has extended temporary border controls, introduced in September to contain the spread of the coronavirus, by another month, the head of the Prime Minister's Office said. At a regular government press briefing, Gergely Gulyas urged the public to observe the rules implemented so far in response to the epidemic, underlining the importance of wearing face masks.

Schools are carrying out temperature checks on students and the blanket visiting ban on visits to hospitals and retirement homes is being maintained, he said, adding that the seasonal flu vaccine will also be widely available.

Government spokesperson Alexandra Szentkiralyi said that flu vaccines would be made available free to residents this year. She noted that flu and Covid-19 produced similar symptoms, and vaccination against flu could help doctors diagnose Covid-19. Nationwide, 1.3 million flu vaccines will be distributed, she said.

Traditionally, the vaccine is offered free of charge to risk groups over the age of 3 but this year it everyone will have access without having to pay, she added. The flu vaccination will be available to everyone from their GPs from the second half of October, she added. Over 39,000 health workers and 8,900 social care employees have already been vaccinated, she said.

Meanwhile, Gulyas said the government’s aim, in line with the results of the latest National Consultation public survey, is to ensure that the country is able to function.

As regards the economy, Gulyas said there were more than 4.5 million people employed, adding that the government had kept its promise to create as many jobs as were lost in the coronavirus crisis while helping to preserve some 1.4 million jobs through various schemes. He also added that job protection would remain one of the government’s top priories.

Gulyas confirmed expectations of a dropping economic performance but added that the Hungarian figure would still be better than the European average. Gulyas said the government forecasts and economic downturn this year of an annual five percent.

On another subject, Gulyas said that linking the dispute concerning the rule of law in European Union member states to the bloc’s planned coronavirus recovery package was “irresponsible” and this could prevent members from gaining timely access to community aid.

Gulyas noted that while Hungary had expressed disagreement with plans to jointly take out a loan to finance the package in the summer, it supported the scheme out of solidarity with southern EU member states.

Concerning the European Commission’s report on the rule of law, Gulyas said that the document “clearly applies double standards,” adding that it applied “the rule of blackmail rather than the rule of law”. He also insisted that European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova had made a “grossly offensive” remark concerning Hungary, and said that the EU “must not have leaders speaking disrespectfully about a member state or its citizens”. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has turned to the head of the commission over the matter, and the Hungarian government will no longer have bilateral talks with Jourova, who has become “persona non grata”, Gulyas said.

He also criticised the report over its sources, saying that “11 out its 12 external references are associated with organisations financed by George Soros”.

Gulyas called for “irresponsible disputes” to be dropped in the EU agreement on a coronavirus rescue package implemented, adding that the package may be set up on an intergovernmental basis. “If some still think that the package could be prevented using the rule of law as an excuse, we need to find a different solution,” he said.

Concerning funds for the University of Theatre and Film Arts, Gulyas said the university’s board may have three billion forints (EUR 8.3m) at its disposal next year, more than twice as much as it has received so far. “The government’s only powers over universities run by foundations are to ensure the necessary funds, which have been exercised,” he said. The government, he added, had placed its full trust in the board and “observes the law that the government does not have control over universities transferred to foundations”, he added.

In response to a question, Gulyas said a proposal by the Chamber of Doctors to double doctors’ salaries paired with sanctions for accepting gratuities was discussed by the cabinet on Wednesday. “A decision wasn’t taken … the proposal provides the basis for negotiations and now we’re in direct talks with them,” Gulyas said.

On another subject, Gulyas said the metropolitan council had proposed an amendment to current building regulations in the City Park. He said the council should have coordinated its move at the Budapest-government forum. Commenting on the stalled Biodome investment project, he said “we are rooting for the capital” so that it can open the biodome to visitors as soon as possible, adding that it would be a significant tourist attraction.

In response to a question on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Gulyas said the Hungarian government supported a peaceful resolution to all conflicts and continued to consider territorial integrity an issue of great importance. Commenting on the issue of the upcoming US elections, he said a loss by Donald Trump would be “bad for us” and for central Europe.

Asked about remarks by the head of the State Audit Office (ASZ) suggesting a reduction in the personal income tax rate from 15 percent to 9 percent could support the recovery, Gulyas said there was a “zero percent chance” of a single-digit PIT rate being introduced from next year.

Gulyas said the government is examining the Magyar Nemzeti Bank’s fifty-point crisis management package, and it agrees with parts of it; for example, family policy measures. Much depends on whether the country can afford such measures, adding that the minister of family affairs, Katalin Novak, is drawing up a comprehensive family protection package.

Referring to statements made by EU Commissioner Vera Jourova, he said these would not have any impact at all on Hungarian-Czech relations.

On the subject of the new EU climate targets, Gulyas said the government considered it “absurd” that some countries wanted the EU targets to be made stricter without complying with their own commitments in respect of national undertakings for 2030.

Meanwhile, in further comments on the coronavirus situation in Hungary, Gulyas said a positive change in people’s attitude to protection measures had been palpable in the past two weeks and if people carried on observing the rules, then the number of cases would stagnate, as would the number of coronavirus patients treated in the hospital.

He said that the health-care system currently has sufficient capacity to treat everyone without any changes being made to protocols. Non-urgent surgeries may be postponed if necessary and this may happen, if worst comes to the worst, in mid-October.

He said the field hospital for handling Covid patients in Kiskunhalas will open soon.

Leave a Reply