Gergely Gulyas – Photo: MTI

Differentiating between vaccinated and non-vaccinated is constitutionally justified, Gulyas says

Gulyas: Hungary among safest countries in Europe from Covid point of view

The fourth Covid wave will be fundamentally different from previous ones in Hungary thanks to the country's vaccination drive, the prime minister's chief of staff told a government press briefing on Wednesday, adding that Hungary was among Europe's "safest and freest" counties today in terms of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gergely Gulyas said the government had no intention of bringing back lockdowns.

He said the elderly were still vulnerable, and appealed to people who have not got vaccinated to do so.

Gulyas said booster jabs were primarily recommended for people over the age of 60. The government has done everything it could to facilitate the vaccination of the elderly, he said, adding that all data indicated that the vaccine reduced the risk of hospitalisation and death from Covid.

Hungary has plenty of vaccines available, and it will join EU procurements of vaccines for the under-12s should a vaccine be approved for this age group, he added.

Hungary has 3.3 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in stock, in addition to 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca, some 300,000 doses of Jansen, 77,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik jab and 2.6 million of China’s Sinopharm vaccine, he said.

Meanwhile, Gulyas noted the government has asked lawmakers to prolong the special measures related to Covid until Jan. 1, adding that this had no bearing on people’s fundamental freedoms. He added past restrictions such as curbs on public gatherings and curfews have been lifted, so given an extension of emergency measures it will be possible to hold demonstrations, for example. The government’s reactive capabilities will be maintained if lawmakers agree to prolong the special measures, Gulyas said.

Meanwhile, he insisted that rising caseload was not expected to have a corresponding effect on hospital admissions or deaths.

He said immunity certificates were still relevant and it was possible they would gain in importance.

On another subject, Gulyas said consultations on next year’s minimum wage between employers, unions and the government also included discussions on whether employers could require employees to get the Covid vaccine. Gulyas said that although no decision has been made yet, he believed employers had a right to expect to be able to rely on their employees.

Speaking about the economy, Gulyas said the government wants to see the minimum wage raised to 200,000 forints (EUR 571) as early as Jan. 1, which, if implemented, would mean higher minimum wages in Hungary in 2022 compared with the average wage during the Socialist government of Ferenc Gyurcsany.

Gulyas noted that most respondents to the government’s National Consultation public survey said the minimum wage should be raised to 200,000 forints. “In 2010, the minimum wage was 73,500 forints. This is why it would be a great achievement to have it raised to that amount as of Jan. 1 next year,” Gulyas said.

The minister said the government had ‘outperformed’ its pledge to create more jobs than those destroyed by the coronavirus pandemic, and cited recent data showing a record number of 4,704,000 employed in Hungary today, adding that this number was at a record high since the change in political system 31 years ago.

Regarding the country’s economic performance, Gulyas said third quarter growth fuelled reason for optimism, and the 5.5 percent growth target — a precondition for providing families raising children an annual personal income tax refund at the level of the average wage next spring — was graspable. As regards tourism, the sector set a record this summer, he said.

In connection with the moratorium on loan repayments for vulnerable borrowers, Gulyas confirmed that the government has decided to extend it. “It is important to offer the option to entrepreneurs that have suffered an at least 25 percent hole in their revenues over the past 18 months, as well as to private individuals and families who suffered a permanent loss of income,” Gulyas said.

Speaking about the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress Budapest hosted last week, Gulyas said the government regarded Pope Francis’s participation as recognition for Hungary, adding that neither the current pontiff nor his predecessor had taken part in any other Eucharistic congress. “It is a rare honour…” he said.

Gulyas expressed thanks to the 20,000 people involved in organising the event, and praised Hungary’s police force and counter terrorism force as well as its disaster management authority and intelligence services.

Gulyas slammed media reports of “tension” at Pope Francis’s meeting with the president and the prime minister as “lies”, saying there were no disagreements at the meeting.

He said the pope had made it clear that he considered Hungary’s family policy “exemplary” and considered it important that the government wasn’t relativising the idea of the family. “A family consists of a mother, a father and children, full stop,” Gulyas quoted the pope as saying.

Commenting on a fresh European Parliament resolution on the rights of the LGBTQ community to same sex marriage, Gulyas said “these kinds of papers aren’t too relevant” and belonged “in the waste paper bin”. He added that “these kinds of activities” by the EP were “a part of the entertainment industry that’s even more expensive than Hollywood”.

As regards the Afghans evacuated to Hungary last month, Gulyas said their asylum procedures were under way. Since their lives are in danger and because they helped the Hungarian troops in Afghanistan, they are eligible for refugee status, he said. Gulyas added, at the same time, that not everyone the government had been looking to evacuate was in Hungary. “If we can, we will help them,” he said, without elaborating.

Asked about the EU potentially supporting Afghanistan, Gulyas said the government still had to look into Brussels’s decision in the matter. He said the Afghan troops trained by the West “have probably joined the Taliban”, adding that the EU should therefore be careful when it comes to spending any more money on that country.

Commenting on a suggestion that more people were signing ruling Fidesz’s petition against Democratic Coalition leader Ferenc Gyurcsany and Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony than the number of people who had given supporting signatures to the opposition’s prime ministerial candidates, Gulyas said the 2022 election would not be a contest between the government and the opposition but one between the current government and “the Gyurcsany government”.

Commenting on Karacsony’s stint teaching at Budapest’s Corvinus University from 2004, Gulyas said Karacsony’s employment had been unlawful and he had been given preferential treatment by the university. He added that the opposition tended to demand the resignation of right-wing politicians who face allegations of much smaller abuses of power.

Asked about Hungary’s ongoing talks with the EU on its post-pandemic recovery plan, Gulyas said he believed there was at least a 50 percent chance for an agreement, adding that he hoped the European Commission would not go back on its word. However, if the commission wants to interfere in the Hungarian election based on a political decision, it would “go against everything keeping the EU alive”, he said. Hungary would be entitled to receive some 350 billion forints’ (EUR 1bn) worth of funds from the recovery package this year, he noted.

Differentiating between the vaccinated and non-vaccinated would be justified from a constitutional point of view, the prime minister’s chief of staff told a government press briefing on Wednesday, adding that the government will wait as long as it can with introducing any regulations that differentiate between them.

For the time being, school closures are not planned because of the pandemic but the government may make a decision to this effect in the future. The state of special legal order must be maintained partly because it enables introducing such changes without lengthy legislation, he said.

All decisions are being made after consultations with experts and based on various statistics, he said. In the fourth wave, the number of infections must be assessed differently than in previous waves because thanks to vaccination, fewer people end up in hospital and fewer need a ventilator.

Commenting on the upcoming hunting expo, he said the cabinet decided that the current number of infections does not justify requiring participants to have immunity certificates. In response to a question on mandatory mask wearing, he said introducing such a requirement would suggest that in effect it is similar to vaccination.

In response to another question, he said the extension of the state of special legal order did not affect the opposition primaries and people are free to submit their votes in person.

Gulyas expressed the view that the fourth wave would affect the country’s operations to a lesser extent than previous waves. The government would like Hungary to start producing coronavirus vaccines but no agreements have been signed yet with any manufacturers.

Commenting on the outgoing government in Norway and related corruption charges, he said it would be good if Norway, as a member of the European Economic Area (EEC), could clear these issues, which he said also involved the possibility of foreign influence. Gulyas said Norwegian government comments concerning monies due to Hungary from the Norway Fund lacked seriousness. Hungary is waiting for the new Norwegian government to be formed, he said. If an agreement cannot be reached with them, legal tools are available to settle the issue, the strongest argument being that unanimity is required to maintan the EEA.

Gulyas reiterated the government’s position that amending the Ukrainian education law which he described as “intolerable, going against all basic human rights principles” was a precondition for Ukraine’s NATO accession. He added that the US could do the most in order for progress to be made in this issue.

In response to a question on migration, he said it required three thousand police and soldiers to be present at Hungary’s southern borders, which put a significant burden on these organisations. The pressure of migration could grow further on these borders and it could become stronger than in 2016, which will require even further staff to be sent there, he added. He reiterated that Hungary would not be willing to let in migrants.

In response to a question regarding whether international organisations or other states may interfere in the Hungarian general elections next year, Gulyas said “the majority of western European governments would be happy to see the right wing not win”. If no agreement is made on the transfer of funds to Hungary from the European Union’s recovery plan, it will show that “the European Commission wants to participate in the campaign on the side of the opposition”, he said. However, the government has made every effort to avoid this risk, he added.

Gulyas also said that it was “unimaginable” that gay marriage would be legalised in Hungary. He added that the government’s view is that “same-sex marriage does not exist”.

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