New measures were instrumental in ensuring the necessary quality and safety of hospital treatment

Orbán: Restrictions on family gatherings ‘hopefully’ lifted by Christmas

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, in an interview with commercial broadcaster TV2 on Wednesday, expressed hope that restrictions on family gatherings, which limit the number of participants to ten people, could be lifted by Christmas. The effects of the restrictions introduced on Wednesday against the coronavirus pandemic will be visible in two weeks, Orbán said. "I cannot answer sooner than that, but I have strong hope," he said.

Orbán said he hoped that “European states with good protective measures, Hungary among them, will be able to celebrate Christmas in a more liberated manner than the way we are currently living.”

Regarding the new restrictions, Orbán said they were instrumental in ensuring the necessary quality and safety of hospital treatment. Without such measures, “we would run out of doctors and nurses,” he said.

Hospital beds, protective gear and ventilators are at hand, “and we have doctors too, only not enough,” Orbán said. Without the restrictions, the health-care system had a 50 percent chance of withstanding the onslaught of the epidemic, he said. “With restrictions, that chance is 99.99 percent,” he added.

Orbán said the public “seemed ready” to accept draconian measures such as a curfew between 8pm and 5am.

Ahead of outlining the restrictions, Orbán said he had reviewed the Austrian measures and consulted with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. On Thursday, he will talk to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he said.

The Hungarian health-care system is in a “heroic state”, Orbán said, with hospital staff working beyond their strength. However, “there are only so many of them”, he said.

“Had everything gone on as it did before, they would have had to capitulate after a while,” Orbán said. With the restrictions aiding their work, “they will hopefully withstand the pressure,” he added.

“We have excellent doctors and nurses … but they are also human,” Orbán said, adding that the number of infected professionals was “not low”.

Orbán said a vaccine against Covid-19 was within reach, and medicines to alleviate the symptoms of the disease were available and procured regularly.

No vaccine has as yet passed all four requirements for public distribution, but several have passed three, Orbán said.

Vaccines developed in the European Union will pass the last hurdle in January, and their Russian and Chinese counterparts are expected to do the same, he said. Hungary is in contact with all three countries, he added.

It would be “liberating” to have several vaccines Hungarians could choose from, he said.

He noted, at the same time, that only smaller quantities of either would reach Hungary by December-January. “There will be a feeling of relief nonetheless,” he added.

One person will likely need two jabs to be inoculated, he said.

The hundreds of millions of vaccines needed across the EU are set to become available in April or May “and then we’ll experience a feeling of liberation”, Orbán said.

Put to him that many would have wanted primary schools and kindergartens to be closed, the prime minister said most people believed that the country must continue to function even while mounting a defence against the epidemic “and for parents this means being able to go to work”.

If creches are closed and kindergarteners and primary school students are sent home, a parent would be forced to stay home with them and would not be able to go to work, Orbán explained. “This is something that most people don’t want,” he said, adding, however, that if at some point the majority supported this solution “there’ll be a chance to implement it”.

Orbán also said that he, too, was surprised that many held “farewell gatherings” before the curfew came into effect. “But the question is whether those who are better at following the rules can influence those who have a harder time with it,” he said.

As regards the police monitoring of the curfew, Orbán said officers should be “humane but manly” when enforcing the rules, adding that lawmakers had enacted clear regulations.

Patrol groups will consist of a police officer and an armed soldier, he said, noting that under Hungary’s constitution, soldiers are not authorised to police civilians but could still be of help to the police officers.

Orbán said the government would provide relief for hotels, restaurants and leisure companies over the coming month. “But this isn’t a solution, it just helps them survive,” he said.

The prime minister said the government would soon enact measures aimed at helping businesses stay afloat and become stronger over the coming months, adding that these would mainly come in the form of tax cuts.

“We have to help businesses stay afloat so that they don’t have to let anyone go and so that they can hire new people who will then be able to provide for their families,” Orbán said. He added that the government was committed to the concept of a labour-based economy even in a time of crisis management.

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