Illustration – Photo: MTI

Free parking in public areas comes to an end on Tuesday morning

Hungary to step back from next phase of EU vaccine procurement

Hungary will not take part in the next phase of vaccine procurement organised by the European Union, the prime minister's chief of staff said on Thursday. Hungary has already ordered over 10 million Western vaccines, to be delivered by the end of 2022, Gergely Gulyas told a regular press briefing.

Once 5 million Hungarians have received their jabs, the vaccination drive is expected to slow down considerably, “even more so than after the four million mark”, Gulyas said. Altogether, “we can expect 5.5 million [Hungarians to get inoculated], 6 million if we are optimistic,” he said. He also said that a slowing down of the drive could be due to “a third or half” of the people registered for vaccination had had Covid-19, and “they will probably turn up for the shots but are in no hurry”.

The ten million Western vaccines will suffice even if a third jab becomes necessary, he said. “In addition, there are also Eastern vaccines at hand,” he said. He added that each vaccine provided immunity for at least 9 months.

Gulyas said that Hungary would have to order and pay for 19 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, irrespective of whether they are necessary or not. The Hungarian government “will not participate in that 120 billion (forint) game”, partly because a new plant in Debrecen, in eastern Hungary, will probably produce sufficient vaccines from the second half of next year, he insisted.

Hungary “is aware that the EU has a common vaccine purchase programme, and we hope that it will go smoother (in future) than it did in its first phase… but Hungary has amassed sufficient reserves,” Gulyas said.

Gulyas also said that the current special legal order would only be retained as long after the third wave of the pandemic “as absolutely necessary”. Other European countries have a lower vaccination rate and the risk of getting infected is “significantly higher”, he said.

The Indian variant of the coronavirus had not been detected in Hungary but “there is a chance” that it would, Gulyas said. “Therefore the government can lift some restrictions for everybody but some other restrictions for the immunised only,” he added.

Though Hungary has overcome the third wave of the pandemic, “the virus is still with us”, and spreading among those who are not vaccinated, Gulyas said, urging the public to get the jab.

“We are now at the point where those who register can get an appointment for any vaccine within a few days, or even the next day,” he said.

On another subject, Gulyas said free parking in public areas, a measure introduced with regard to the pandemic, will be lifted at midnight on Sunday. (Parking will remain free until Tuesday morning, because of Whit Monday though – note)

At its Wednesday meeting, the government also decided to extend a moratorium on debt service payments until August 31, Gulyas said.

The government would then like to see a longer transition period so that those who needed the moratorium could continue benefitting from it, he added. Gulyas noted that talks on the extension were ongoing with the National Bank of Hungary and the banking association.

“In the current situation, we see it as a necessary condition for the success of the economic recovery that private individuals and families as well as businesses be in a good financial position,” Gulyas said.

“No doubt the moratorium is a big help to those who would have difficulty going back to immediate debt service payments,” he added.

Meanwhile, Gulyas said the number of Hungarians inoculated against Covid-19 is expected to exceed 5 million this coming weekend, adding that this will entail new measures. The prime minister and the operative board responsible for handling the pandemic will discuss new regulations on Friday morning, which Viktor Orban will announce later in the day, Gulyas said.

Gulyas also noted that parliament this week had created some of the legal conditions for further Covid response measures, adding that lawmakers would later pass a law on ending the special legal order introduced to contain the spread of the virus.

“We’ve made it possible to uphold the special legal order, which will expire no later than 15 days after the start of the autumn parliamentary session,” Gulyas said. “However, the government intends to end the special legal order before that.”

Gulyas emphasised that the special legal order would only remain in effect for as long as it is necessary. “But to end it, we have to clarify the decisions that will need to be made after the special legal order expires and the measures that will need to be repealed,” he added.

Gulyas cited the extended loan repayment moratorium and the extension of the validity of official documents as examples of measures that will be included in the law lifting the special legal order.

The government has proposed to lift the curfew imposed between midnight and 5am once the number of inoculations reaches 5 million, Gulyas said. The decision regarding the curfew lies with the operative board, he said.

After that benchmark, further easing will be linked to incidence numbers and not inoculations, Gulyas said.

Regarding next year’s elections, Gulyas said the voters would decide whether the incumbent government will prevail or “[Democratic Coalition head] Ferenc Gyurcsany and company will return to power”.

Should the latter win the elections, “there are clear rules in place to changing the constitution or laws requiring a two-third majority, even if there are many in Gyurcsany’s circle who would like to change that.”

Gulyas noted that Mate Kocsis, Fidesz’s parliamentary group leader, had submitted a proposal to parliament which would strengthen statutory regulations and punishment on paedophilia, and would “give judges more room to manoeuvre”. The party leadership is supporting the proposal, although the government has yet to table it, he said.

On another topic, Gulyas said he had met mayors of Budapest districts and county seats on Tuesday, “who proposed countless changes and arguments” against a Fidesz proposal on selling rental apartments owned by local councils for the use of vulnerable citizens.

The proposal is in line with the government’s aim to “make people owners rather than renters in their own country” Gulyas said.

While arguments against the proposal have their merit in the case of definite term leases, leases for indefinite terms is “basically a form of reduced ownership as it can be inherited and sold”. Transforming those rentals into ownerships would be a “clearer situation with better opportunities to maintain or utilise the property”, he said.

Regarding the 2022 draft budget and the Fiscal Council’s call for a speedy deficit reduction, Gulyas said the council’s role was limited to giving their opinions on reducing public debt. On that matter, the council has agreed that the budget will bring debt reduction, he said.

The government thinks the minimum wage should not be exempt from taxes but raised swiftly and radically, Gulyas said, noting the minimum wage raises under Fidesz governments, to 50,000 forints from 19,500 in 1998, then recently to 170,000 from 73,000.

Regarding Hungary’s veto of a European Union statement on the conflict between Israel and the Hamas terrorist group, Gulyas said Hungary stood by Israel’s right to defend itself and found it unacceptable to handle Israel and a terrorist group as equals. The Hungarian foreign policy has the right to express its opinion at every opportunity, he said.

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