Photo: MTI / Lajos Soós

Vaccinations to be provided on a voluntary basis and free of charge "no matter which vaccine will be available"

Gulyas: Health services ‘far better prepared’ for second wave

The second wave of the coronavirus epidemic is "more serious" than the first, but "the country and its health services are far more ready for the challenge", the prime minister's chief of staff told a regular government press briefing. Gergely Gulyas said the government trusted that the new restrictions over the next thirty days would stop the spread of the virus and health capacity would be sufficient to treat patients requiring intensive care, Gulyas said.

He said Hungary was monitoring the practices of neighbouring countries, especially those of Austria. “The same measures in Hungary have resulted in far lower case numbers,” he said.

Hungary, he said, had the highest number of ventilators per million people and the third-highest number of hospital beds and intensive care beds in the European Union.

On the subject of working rules for MPs, he said: “If Hungarian employees are expected to do their jobs in this difficult situation, then the same can be expected of members of parliament”. The rules, he added, are designed to ensure that everyone can continue working to the full. Referring to critical remarks about government-sponsored rules related to the epidemic, he said that lawmakers “cannot be exempted” from doing their job.

“In the spring, a rumour spread outside Hungary that parliament was not functioning, whereas in reality it had been sitting all along, unlike other countries and the European Parliament,” Gulyas said.

Addressing the topic of Hungary’s recent amendment to the election law, he said the move was “justified and necessary”, insisting that the changes would not have an impact on the opposition’s ability to cooperate.

The changes, he said, were aimed at ensuring that only those parties that can field at least fifty individual candidates would receive central financing. “This has nothing to do with the ability of opposition parties to field candidates…” he said, adding that all parties agreed that election and campaign financing rules had been open to abuse. Under the amended law, political parties will need 25,000 signatures to set up a national list and receive central subsidies, Gulyas said. Also, the the new rules, he said, were passed as a matter of urgency so they could effect before the 2022 elections.

Meanwhile, answering a question about whether teachers of church-run and private schools would be subject to the national coronavirus testing programme, Gulyas said all school staff would be tested”, adding that the central board in charge of managing the coronavirus epidemic would decide on follow-up testing of health-care staff and teachers.

Asked about the US-German coronavirus vaccine, Gulyas said that so far the government has signed a 13 billion forint deal with a single company for 6.5 million doses. He said the government must try to obtain any other vaccine that has been tested three times, is proven to save lives, and can be imported before the US-German vaccine is made available. Talks are under way with Israeli, Russian, and Chinese parties “concerning any vaccine that cannot be obtained through EU ties”.

Vaccinations will be provided on a voluntary basis and free of charge “no matter which vaccine is available”, Gulyas said, emphasising that only vaccines that are not harmful would be procured. Talks “with all parties” are under way on licencing the vaccine so that it can be produced in Hungary, the chief of staff added.

Concerning the timing of recent coronavirus-related restrictions, Gulyas said the government had taken “timely and appropriate” measures. Whereas twice as many hospital beds are available compared with the current number of Covid patients in the country, “this is not true in terms of nurses and doctors”. The restrictions were introduced to maintain an appropriate level of health services, he said, adding that the government was confident that Hungary’s health system would withstand the burden of the epidemic.

Answering a question concering homeless services, Gulyas said: “Nobody should sleep on the street in the second half of November, irrespective of the epidemic”. He noted that municipalities are obliged to run homeless shelters, adding that rooms should be made available for homeless people who have not yet been tested for coronavirus. The government, he said, was ready help with legal changes if necessary.

Meanwhile, Gulyas said reports that the government wanted to subsidise the pay of footballers “in the million-forint range” was a “rumour”.

The minister said the government would soon make a decision on making internet services free of charge for families and teachers teaching and learning online.

Asked about Lajos Korozs, the Socialist head of parliament’s welfare committee, Gulyas said he did not understand “why the opposition is hesitating to appoint someone else for the post”. Korozs, he said, had “produced a fake video in the midst a state of emergency”.

On another subject, Gulyas said that the government would consider the chamber of doctors’ proposals when passing new rules on the mandatory transfer of doctors from one locality to another during the epidemic, and would be “lenient” in terms of planned rules that would ban doctors from taking up second jobs. He said the new rules would be “open and flexible”, ensuring doctors “a new legal status and significantly higher salaries”. He added, however, that “hospitals and patients have the right to expect doctors to spend their working hours doing hospital jobs”.

Addressing the issue of fake political parties, he noted that some public prosecutions were still ongoing related to the 2018 general election, adding that similar abuses would no longer be feasible in the 2022 ballot now that the government has introduced tougher requirements for anyone applying to receive central campaign funding.

On the subject of the EU agreement to make funding contingent on meeting rule-of-law standards, Gulyas said Hungarian lawmakers had already defined the conditions under which the government could give its approval to the EU budget and recovery fund, adding that the German presidency’s current formula for the agreement breached the EU treaties. Hungary, he said, would not help to form a consensus on the matter under such conditions.

He said a “stealthy” attempt was being made to override EU treaties, adding that in order to amend the treaty, unanimity was required. The rule of law only works if decisions can be appealed in court, Gulyas said.

The key question, he said, was whether government decisions would be made in Budapest or Brussels. Gulyas added that allowing two-thirds of EU member states to back a rule-of-law procedure would amount to “blackmail” over matters that, based on the Lisbon Treaty, belonged exclusively to “Hungarians and the Hungarian government”.

Gulyas said Hungary had agreed to consider the Next Generation EU fund out of solidarity with southern member states, even though it disagreed with the principle of joint borrowing. He added that Hungary had no financing difficulties, and, notwithstanding its desire to help other countries, it could not accept the rule-of-law contingency on funding.

Asked about EU country reports, Gulyas slammed the EU for creating “the right to blackmail”. Legal consequences should not arise if a document does not meet objective standards, he said.

Meanwhile, Gulyas accused the opposition DK and the Socialist parties of openly favouring the integration of Muslim migrants, adding this indicated that these parties would open the border if they were elected.

On the topic of the government’s recent move to ban single people from adopting a child, with minor exceptions, he said a child’s physical and mental development was best served by an upbringing involving both a mother and father, and the policy was “reasonable and in the interests of children”.

Asked about the US presidential election, Gulyas said an official result had yet to be declared. Had a similar situation arisen in Hungary with similar irregularities, a US Democratic administration would have censured Hungary, he said. Exporting democracy, he added, was “very dangerous” because “little may be left of it at home”.

Gulyas insisted that the Obama administration had fallen short in finding common solutions to common goals, and whether the Biden administration would fare any better was an open question.

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