Gulyas slams Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony for plans to buy "thirty-year-old trams without air conditioning"

Hungary to lift mask mandate when 5.5 million inoculated

Hungary will lift mask-wearing requirements once 5.5 million people have been inoculated against Covid-19, the prime minister's chief of staff said. As a general rule, masks will no longer be required indoors and people will be allowed to go to hotels, restaurants, baths and water parks without an immunity certificate once vaccinations reach 5.5 million, Gergely Gulyas told a regular press briefing.

He added, at the same time, that masks will remain mandatory in the health-care sector.

The use of immunity certificates will be maintained for mass events, such as sports events, concerts, festivals and night clubs, he said.

Gulyas also said that the European Union’s Digital Green Certificate for Covid immunity will enter into force in Hungary as well on July 1.

Paper certificates will also be available at government offices or can be printed out from the government’s Client Gate electronic administration portal. The government will launch an information campaign on the certificate next Monday, he added.

Normal procedures have been reinstated at Hungary’s public road border crossings and there will be no border controls at Hungary’s internal Schengen borders with Slovenia, Slovakia and Austria, Gulyas said. The pre-pandemic rules will apply at the borders with Romania, Croatia and Serbia, with no need for health controls, and the current rules will remain in force at the border with Ukraine, he added.

Hungarians will be able to visit the most popular summer holiday destinations without restrictions, he said. Certain countries are applying the same rules they applied last summer in terms of categorising countries according to their infection rates, Gulyas said, adding that Hungary was considered a low-risk country.

As regards the new National Consultation public survey set to be launched next week, Gulyas said it will focus on life after the pandemic and in addition to questions about the economy, it will also cover the recently adopted anti-paedophile law.

Gulyas said it had become clear in recent years that “we live in a difficult and dangerous period and the past half decade could be described as an era of pandemics and migration”. Hungary must make preparations for this, he added.

Gulyas said that strengthening the economy, protecting jobs and supporting families remained the most important goals.

The National Consultation survey will include questions concerning plans to raise the minimum wage to 200,000 forints (EUR 570), provide tax rebates to families and extend a loan moratorium, Gulyas noted. In response to international disputes on the new anti-paedophile law, the cabinet decided at Wednesday’s meeting that it too will be covered in the survey, he said.

The PM’s chief of staff said the law which imposes stricter punishment for paedophilia and regulates the sexual education of children was not about homosexuality, but rather about protecting children.

The sexual education of children is the responsibility of parents alone, Gulyas said. Hungary is a free country in which everyone has a right to live their life however they want, he said, adding that no one interfered in the lives of adults.

Hungary’s ambassadors delivered the government’s response to the foreign ministries of the countries that have issued a joint statement expressing concern over the law, Gulyas said. In its response, the government rejects the “baseless allegations” made in connection with the law and calls on the signatory countries to refrain from “baselessly defaming Hungary in the future”, he added.

Gulyas read out the government’s response in which it says that the law does not discriminate against anyone and is in line with EU law and based on the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

On another topic, Gulyas congratulated Hungary’s national football team on its performance in the Euro 2020 championship. “The Hungarian team’s performance in the group stage was no mean feat,” he said, adding that Hungary’s group had included three of the world’s top five national teams.

He added that “unlike in other countries where some are trying to mix sports and politics, we just want to congratulate the Hungarian team’s players.”

Asked about reports that the Bavarian authorities had blocked Hungarian consuls from doing their job in Munich during Wednesday’s match, Gulyas said the authorities had been “unfriendly” towards the consuls, “tiptoeing the line of lawfulness”. He said it “doesn’t seem illogical” that this had something to do with Hungary’s anti-paedophilia law.

Asked if European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s statement concerning the law would have an impact on Hungary’s relations with the EU, Gulyas said that it would, which was why the prime minister had issued such a strongly worded response.

Hungary’s interest lies in maintaining a balanced relationship with Germany and Bavaria even if certain German politicians “are working against this”, Gulyas said.

He said UEFA had made the right decision when it refused a request from Munich’s mayor for the stadium to be lit in rainbow colours.

On another subject, Gulyas cited virologists as saying that all Covid vaccines were effective against the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

Asked if the government would compensate those who received the Russian Sputnik V jab and therefore had to produce a negative PCR test in order to travel abroad, Gulyas said “compensate” was the wrong word in this case, given that the people in question were protected against the virus. He added, at the same time, that it was too early to make a decision in the matter at this stage and that it was best to wait until the EU’s vaccine passport enters into force on July 1. The government hopes that many countries will allow entry to everyone, he said.

Gulyas dismissed reports that some who did not have enough antibodies were travelling to Romania to receive a Pfizer booster shot as “untrue”.

Meanwhile, he said only those who had received both of their Covid shots would be eligible for the EU’s green certificate.

Gulyas also said that Hungary’s high Covid death rate needed to be investigated. Looking at data from the beginning of the year, it is clear that central European countries had been dealing with higher death rates, he said, adding that this was likely due to central Europeans being in poorer health than western Europeans.

Though most deaths in the third wave of the pandemic were reported in the central European region, Hungary had the lowest death rate in this part of the continent, Gulyas said.

In response to a question, he said it was possible that the government would be forced to bring back restrictions in the event of a fourth wave. He said that though the vaccine would not be made mandatory by the state, certain employers could mandate their employees to get the shot in order to work on site.

Hungary’s government is moving ahead with plans to organise the public celebrations and evening fireworks show for the August 20 national holiday, the prime minister’s chief of staff said on Thursday.

In response to a question, Gergely Gulyas expressed hope that Hungary would have a reason and an opportunity to celebrate the holiday, saying that the vaccines in use were effective against all known variants of the coronavirus.

“And the target of 5.5 million inoculations can be met within a few days,” Gulyas added.

As things stand, it looks like it will be safe to hold the August 20 celebrations and the fireworks display, he said.

Asked if children realising their homosexual orientation at school will be left without help, Gulyas said the rules of enforcement would be issued after consultations with the organizations concerned. He added that he saw no reason for a situation like that to emerge. These rules will also make it clear, he said, what teachers should teach and what not, what kind of information they should disclose and what not, he said.

Gulyas said the government hopes that Brussels has not lost common sense totally. Those reading the text of the law will realise that it bans both heterosexual and homosexual propaganda directed at children, and therefore it is neither heterophobe, nor homophobe, he said.

The minister said he was surprised to learn that the European Commission qualified the Hungarian law as one endangering the single market.

Hungary’s government is prepared to discuss the European Union’s future with the Visegrad countries and anyone else with whom it finds common points, Gulyas said. He added that the European Parliament is not an adequate forum for promoting integration and the EU’s operation. It is the problem itself, he said.

Concerning the economy, Gulyas said that post-pandemic recovery has inflationary effects all over the world. The ways of rebooting the economy is a matter of disputes in other EU member states and the United States, too, he said.

The government sees the central bank’s instruments as sufficient for preventing substantial inflationary risks, Gulyas said, adding that the 2022 inflation forecasts of 3-4 percent are realistic.

The central bank has all the means to fight inflation. The only matter of dispute between the government and the banks is the extension of the loan repayment moratorium, he said, adding that the government would “take into consideration” the results of the National Consultation when weighing the future of the measure.

Concerning speedway developments, Gulyas said that the government was working to ensure that “Hungary should not have a location from which a motorway cannot be accessed in 30 minutes. He said that the EU did not provide funds for the purpose, and with a view to limitations in the central budget the government was mulling implementation in a concession structure. He insisted that in Hungary “concessions have a negative connotation due to the practice of (former) leftist governments”. He argued, however, that concessions “could be done well, through minimising the risk of exchange rate fluctuations”. He also suggested that the central budget’s revenues from motorway tolls of an annual 300 billion forints (EUR 858m) could be doubled through constucting further motorways.

In another development, Gulyas slammed Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony for plans to buy “thirty-year-old trams without air conditioning” for public transport, saying that the mayor had earlier criticised his predecessor for the metro cars having no air conditioning. He also said that “managing traffic in the capital is a mayoral responsibility”. He insisted that traffic in Budapest “has now come to a standstill”, and accused Karacsony of a “new form of persecution of car drivers”.

On another subject, Gulyas said that if NATO launched an Afghanistan mission, Hungary would be ready to participate, and added that negotiations were under way.

Answering a question about an estate owned by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s father and possible risks of graft, Gulyas said that Gyozo Orban’s business was legitimate, adding that “the estate in Hatvanpuszta has mostly economic buildings and their renewal cannot be criticised in any way”.

In his response to another question, concerning politicians’ asset declarations, Gulyas said that those “living in a separate household from a politician family member” should not be obliged to submit such declarations. “Nobody should be blamed because their son or brother is a politician,” he insisted.

Concerning ruling Fidesz’s position in the European Parliament, Gulyas excluded the possibility of joining a group with Germany’s AfD party in it. He also said that his government was ready to “continue in a good inter-state cooperation” with the new government of Israel.

On the subject of the government’s lifting a second language requirement for undergraduates, Gulyas said that the primary reason was to ensure that those students could take up employment as soon as possible. Referring to the coronavirus pandemic, he said that certain forms of studying languages had become more difficult, but added that “it would not be a good general practice… those graduating should have a foreign language certificate”.

Answering a question about rising construction material prices Gulyas said that the government was mulling measures to be taken within the next two weeks.

Gulyas also said that plans to illuminate in rainbow colours a stadium in Munich for a Germany-Hungary football match on Wednesday had “nothing to do with the prime minister’s absence”. He added that Orban had watched the match elsewhere.

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