Prime minister Viktor Orbán – Photo: PMO

Brussels' introduction of "a so-called climate protection plan will further raise energy prices", PM says

Orbán: Vaccine only defence against infection

No protective measure can shield people from contracting the coronavirus, only the vaccine can, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said on Friday. In a regular interview with public broadcaster Kossuth Radio, the prime minister noted that the Delta variant of the virus was more aggressive and infectious than its previous variants.

Those who are inoculated against Covid are not in danger, he said, adding at the same time that the virus was life threatening to those who have not been vaccinated. Not only are they likely to get infected, but they will also likely end up seriously ill and in hospital, Orbán warned, and encouraged everyone to get the vaccine.

Until everyone is inoculated the virus will keep lingering, he said, adding that while less than one percent of those who are vaccinated fall ill with Covid, those who have not received the jab were ten times more at risk. Although those who are vaccinated can also contract the virus, “far fewer of them” end up seriously ill than those who are unvaccinated, the prime minister said.

He said protective measures like mask mandates were effective in slowing the spread of the virus but did not guarantee full protection. “So we mustn’t be under the illusion that we are protected if we go into lockdown, self-isolate and wear a mask. That doesn’t protect us, only the vaccine does,” Orbán said.

The prime minister said Hungary will have 15 million coronavirus vaccine doses delivered by the end of the year.

Concerning the new protective measures introduced from Nov. 1, Orbán said the reason the government had got employers involved in the defence against the pandemic was because the virus was spreading faster in some parts of the country than others. Employers have therefore been given the right to order their employees to get vaccinated and put those who do not comply on unpaid leave, he noted, acknowledging that “this is a controversial measure”. Orbán added, at the same time, that though Hungarians would not have accepted a blanket vaccine mandate, they accepted such a decision being taken by the workplace community.

Workers employed by state institutions who come into contact with a lot of people but refuse to get vaccinated will be put on unpaid leave with immediate effect. Eventually all state employees will have to decide between getting vaccinated or being put on unpaid leave, he added.

On the topic of utility costs, Orbán said Hungary’s left-wing opposition had made it clear that they would raise the price of electricity and gas to market level if they won next year’s general election.

“The left’s position is clear: if market prices are rising, the people should also pay more,” Orbán said. He added that his government, on the other hand, had fixed household utility prices in the interests of families and pensioners. Even though the price of electricity and gas has increased two to three-fold in Europe in recent months, Hungarian households have not seen their utility bills rise, Orbán said.

“That’s how it’ll be as long as the country is governed by a nationally minded government,” he said.

Meanwhile, Orbán said it was a “foolish idea” on the part of Brussels to introduce “a so-called climate protection plan that will further raise prices” when energy prices were already rising.

But governments have room for manoeuvre, Orbán said, adding that it was possible to fight climate change by making the biggest polluting companies bear the costs for it instead of households.

He said this was currently the most contested issue in Brussels, as the more prosperous western European countries wanted to impose a tax on homes and vehicles while the central European countries were resisting such a measure. The main question at next month’s summit of European Union leaders will be which side prevails, he added.

Orbán said the increase of the minimum wage to a monthly 200,000 forints had been a “great achievement”, adding that he had not heard of any international example of a 20 percent minimum wage increase within one year. In order to achieve this, the government agreed to a significant tax cut at talks with employers, he added.

Ten years ago, when the Gyurcsany-Bajnai governments were in power, the average wage was at the same level that the minimum wage will now reach, he said.

Commenting on migration, Orbán said that over the past six years since 2015, border fences have been built not only by Hungary but also by Greece, Spain, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland. This shows that Hungary’s position which it took “in solo” in 2015 is slowly becoming a majority view in Europe, he said.

A total of 92,000 illegal border entries were prevented in the first nine months of this year, which shows that the pressure of migration increased three to four-fold over one year, Orbán said.

Hungary has spent nearly 600 billion forints on border protection so far, which is approximately the same sum that the government will give to parents in the form of tax rebates next year, he said. As a result, it is a reasonable demand by Hungary that the EU should pay back at least a part of this money, he added.

Orbán warned that migration was making the pandemic spread faster, with illegal migrants transmitting infection.

Hungary is ready to open a corridor for migrants to “march up to Austria, Germany and Sweden” but refuses to allow Brussels to force its opinion on Hungary, Orbán said.

It is up to the Hungarian people to decide who should be allowed to enter the country and whom they want to live with, he added. “This debate will stay with us for years because we live in an age of epidemics and migration,” Orbán said.

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