Orbán thanked those 1.8 million people who had returned the government's questionnaires and "helped set directions for preventive efforts" – Photo: MTVA

As long as fatalities are not rising school closures will not be on the agenda

Hungary must function, PM says

The government is working to ensure that Hungary is able to function, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told public broadcaster M1 on Saturday evening, asking the public to observe coronavirus-related measures.

Referring to the government’s “National Consultation” survey, Orbán said that respondents indicated a common wish that the government, the prime minister, the health-care system and economic policymakers should ensure that Hungary stays a viable country and that they should prevent the epidemic from paralysing the country.

Orbán said he was not as worried as during the first wave of the epidemic, because “we now know exactly what we are facing” and the country has all the equipment needed to defend against the virus.

“I am not alone in this fight, but together with 1.8 million people,” Orbán said, and thanked those who had returned the government’s questionnaires and “helped set directions for preventive efforts”.

The prime minister said that the number of new infections had been record high for the previous two days, adding that that number was expected to further increase. He noted, however, that during the second wave it was the number of deaths rather than new infections that should be in the focus.

“The success of prevention could now be measured by the number of lives saved as opposed to deaths,” he said. He said that the second wave called for a different strategy, but added that the country has gained experiences from the first wave and hospitals, as well as health equipment producers were prepared for the next wave.

Based on the survey, the government knows “what people expect us to do and that gives us calm,” Orbán said. The government has a strategy to save lives and keep the country going at the same time, he said, adding that “flexibility, an ability to take action and rapid reactions” were crucial.

Mask wearing rules to be more strictly enforced

The government wants to avoid curfews or re-introducing digital education, Orbán said, insisting that “everything should go on in its own order, whether it is jobs, schools, and even sports, culture, and art”. Tourism and catering should be continued, too, he said, but added that “not as if nothing had happened, but their operations must be maintained”.

“Where one must wear a mask, everybody should wear them and keep a distance, and if they feel ill, they should avoid others.”

Under Saturday’s decisions if a customer is found without a mask in a shop, both the customer and the shop will be fined, Orbán said, adding that on the third such instance the shop could be closed.

“The state is not flexing its muscles … but if the rules are not observed they will be enforced,” he said.

Through their answers in the survey parents indicated a clear wish that schools should open in September in the traditional way, Orbán said.

“If there is trouble”, classes will be reorganised and if isolation is needed, classes, rather than the whole school, will be sent home, he added, noting that schools had been closed down in spring to ease the pressure on the health-care system.

“As long as fatalities are not rising, and it seems we are able to save the elderly, school closures will not be on the agenda,” the prime minister said.

Orbán said the government was prepared to introduce certain restrictive measures, adding, however, that these would not be about “restricting everyday life” but rather rules such as potentially mandating bars and clubs to close at 11pm and enforcing mask-wearing in shops and on public transport.
He noted that the chief medical officer has issued a visiting ban for hospitals and retirement homes across the country and parents are not allowed to enter schools. From Oct. 1, all students will have their temperatures checked upon entering the school, he said.

The government’s measures saved the lives of tens of thousands of elderly citizens in the spring and “we will not risk a single life this time, either, but the country must function,” Orbán said.

Health-care system ready for second wave

Concerning Hungary’s health-care system, Orbán said hospitals have more than 10,000 beds available to treat coronavirus patients and there is a sufficient number of doctors and nurses and capacity is also sufficient in terms of protective gear and ventilators. The Hungarian health-care sector is capable of protecting “all Hungarian lives”, he said.

The prime minister also announced that Katalin Novak, the state secretary for family and youth affairs, will be appointed minister without portfolio for family affairs. The government is creating the position in order to devote close attention to and to improve the living standards of families, Orbán said, adding that Novak will take up the post on Oct. 1.

Orbán noted that his government had made a commitment to create as many jobs as were lost to the virus. The indicators show that the government has been true to its word, he said, adding that employment figures were projected to grow for the remainder of the year. The government has spent a lot of money and energy on launching new investments, Orbán said.

“Hungarian businesses haven’t weakened, but have been strengthened.”

He said the one sector that was “facing serious problems” was the tourism industry. The industry in Budapest had relied almost entirely on foreign visitors “and now tourism has come to a halt,” he said. The business model that Budapest hotels and restaurants had relied on, namely that foreign tourists had accounted for more than 90 percent of guest nights, will not be sustainable this year or the next, the prime minister said. Budapest needs to transition to a new business model and taxi drivers, hotels and the catering and tourism sectors need separate government aid, he said.

“The government helps everyone,” Orbán said, noting that it has reduced contributions, “but a special scheme is needed”. He said it was “good news” that the metropolitan council had more than 100 billion forints (EUR 279.6m) to spend on these schemes.

Cooperation with countries of the Visegrad Group to continue

Orbán also said that the government is in daily contact with the other three Visegrad Group countries. The V4 have set up an epidemiological consultation office during Poland’s presidency to strengthen cooperation, he said, adding that he believed that the governments of Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia would all be able to protect their citizens.

“We’ll protect the elderly,” he said.

“We acknowledge that we’ll have to deal with higher infection rates while ensuring that the economy and the country are able to function, and we’ll help everyone recover. If there’s trouble, the hospitals are available to everyone.”

The prime minister said that if everyone does their job in a calm manner and observes the rules, the elderly would be protected and families would not see their living standards fall.

“This isn’t about speed now, but rather a calm and predictable government policy,” Orbán said.

On another subject, Orbán said that the government was also dealing with long-term matters. He said that unlike central Europe and the V4, western Europe had “committed itself to an open society in which borders don’t matter”.

“They allow in and even invite migrants and envision a mixed world and want to live together with people from foreign cultures,” he said.

“We don’t want this in central Europe; we, Hungarians want to remain a Christian Hungarian civilisation.”

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