Decision on holiday restrictions to be made next week
Vaccine pre-registration campaign announced
Chief Medical Officer Cecilia Muller will contact pensioners by post, sending them a registration form and a stamped addressed envelope, Gergely Gulyas said. An internet site for registration by members of the public will be accessible at vakcinainfo.gov.hu from next week, he added.
He said vaccinations organised by the state will be on a voluntary basis, adding that news reports of non-state-run vaccination schemes were false.
Hungarian requests have been submitted to an additional two vaccine manufacturers, he noted, adding that Pfizer’s vaccine shipments to Europe could be delayed by months.
“This shows that if we want as much of the vaccines available as soon as possible, we must reserve available vaccines from wherever we can, both in the East and the West,” he said. “This is the only way to avoid a third wave of the epidemic.” Hungary has so far reserved vaccine worth 50 billion forints (EUR 140m), he said.
Orbán will hold consultations with epidemiologists, doctors and business chambers on Thursday, he said. The prime minister will then attend a meeting of the operative body coordinating Hungary’s response to the epidemic, where a decision will be made on new measures planned to enter force on Dec. 11 after the expiry of current restrictions, he added.
The majority of forecasts show that the number of new infections and deaths will peak in December, he said.
Gulyas also said that Hungary last week carried out the fifth highest number of Covid tests per million people within the European Union, after the government embarked on the targeted testing of essential workers.
The launch of comprehensive testing in care homes, hospitals and schools means that case numbers are now more precise, Gulyas said. He noted that rapid tests are now available at pharmacies, adding, however, that tests conducted in this manner are not included in the official statistics.
Hungary ranks 12th in the EU in terms of registered Covid-19 cases, Gulyas said. He added that despite Hungary reporting record fatalities almost every day, the country’s death rate was 526 per million people compared with the EU average of 613.
Gulyas said it was necessary to find ways and opportunities to relaunch the economy. Instead of tax hikes, cuts should be made if possible, he said. Some local councils planned the opposite, but, he added, these would make everyday living conditions more difficult and threaten jobs. So the government has fixed taxes at the level of December 31, 2019 and local councils are prohibited from raising taxes, he noted.
Meanwhile, Gulyas noted the European Commission published a migration action plan last week, which he described as “shocking”, given that it coincided with the battle against pandemic and budgetary talks. The document views migration as an unavoidable and permanent phenomenon. In the meantime, he said, the commissioner in charge had raised he rpospect of granting 34 million people voting rights and accommodation.
Gulyas said countries that saw migration as a threat to their quality of life and not as a solution to demographic challenges were bound to object to EU funding being linked to the rule of law. If Hungary “doesn’t persevere” in the debate, it would lose all its means to thwart the EU’s pro-migration plans, he said.
The rule of law is “a codename for the left wing’s attempt to keep anti-migration countries in check,” Gulyas said.
He said the Hungarian government was fully committed to the course it had taken, and saw no possibility for compromise on the issue of migration. Hungary and Poland reject the introduction of legal categories into the budget that have “never been described precisely,” he added.
Asked about the case of former Fidesz MEP Jozsef Szajer, who on Wednesday quit the party after breaching lockdown rules in Brussels, Gulyas, quoting Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, said Szajer’s actions were incompatible with Fidesz’s values. Though Fidesz will not forget or repudiate Szajer’s 30 years of service, “his actions are unacceptable and indefensible”, Gulyas said, adding that Szajer had made the right call by apologising, stepping down from his position as an MEP and quitting the party.
Gulyas dismissed claims that the affair was “an act of revenge by Brussels” or that it involved the secret service as “speculation” which he said the government refused to comment on.
The PM’s chief of staff was also asked about a motion by members of the European People’s Party (EPP) for a vote on expelling Fidesz MEP Tamas Deutsch from the political family’s European Parliamentary group over comments he had made comparing the EPP and its group leader Manfred Weber’s support for the European Union’s rule of law mechanism to the Gestapo and Stalinist dictatorial methods. Gulyas said Deutsch’s remarks were “tactful and witty” compared with what EPP leader Donald Tusk had said in the past about the Hungarian prime minister. “One cannot be punished for exercising their democratic right to express their opinion,” he said. Deutsch’s comment was not aimed at anyone in particular but was rather meant to criticise a procedure that provides no constitutional guarantees and doesn’t serve to safeguard legal certainty, either, Gulyas said.
Asked if Fidesz would quit the EPP if Deutsch were to be expelled from its EP group, given though he is the head of Fidesz’s Brussels delegation, Gulyas said the party would first wait for the final outcome. So far the only parties that have backed the vote on Deutsch’s expulsion are ones that have repeatedly demanded Fidesz’s expulsion from the grouping, he added.
Asked if Orbán would back the EU’s budget and recovery fund next week, Gulyas said repeated that the government considered the proposal to be “unacceptable” in its current form. All member states have a right to exercise their veto power, he said, adding that negotiations should continue until EU leaders find a solution that works for all countries.
Hungary is open to further talks, Gulyas said, adding that “we believe a solution can be found”. He said Hungary would not be losing out on any EU funding if the recovery package were not approved. He noted that the 1,800 billion euro package included the 1,050 billion euro seven-year budget and the 750 billion euro Next Generation EU recovery fund. The latter, he noted, would be financed from a joint loan.
Hungary in the end approved a method of crisis management that it fundamentally disagreed with only out of solidarity with the southern EU member states that are in bigger financial trouble, Gulyas said.
Hungary will announce all EU tenders for the next funding cycle from Jan. 1, even without an agreement on the next budget, Gulyas said. “This is not what we want or what we’re preparing for, but if there are meaningful talks then we’re prepared to reach an agreement,” he added.
Asked about this week’s raids by the Ukrainian authorities on the premises of ethnic Hungarian institutions, Gulyas said Ukraine “once again proved that it can’t be considered a country that is governed by the rule of law” and that it “racially discriminated” against ethnic Hungarians. Gulyas slammed the raids as “unacceptable”, adding that they demonstrated that Ukraine “has no place in either the EU or NATO”.
He noted that Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto has asked Hungary’s NATO allies to express solidarity with Hungary and to stop pressuring it to withdraw its veto of Ukraine’s accession talks.
Meanwhile, asked if the government wanted more essential workers to volunteer for Covid tests and if there were any plans to make them mandatory, Gulyas said the government will keep the tests voluntary. A total of 27 percent of primary school teachers and 36 percent of vocational school teachers declined to be tested, he said.
As regards a potential lifting of restrictions for Christmas, Gulyas said the government had not made a decision on introducing special rules for the holidays at Wednesday’s meeting. The cabinet must first reach a decision on the status of the current restrictions beyond Dec. 11, he said, adding that it was expected to decide on special rules for the holiday period next week.
Even if the restrictions are extended beyond Dec. 11, they should still be relaxed for Christmas and New Year’s to for family get-togethers, Gulyas said.
Asked about the Finance Ministry’s decision to order local councils not to increase local and municipal taxes next year, Gulyas said the government believed that it was wrong to increase burdens in the current situation. Private individuals are no better off than they were last year and businesses are trying to claw their way back to where they were in February of this year, he said, arguing that businesses needed as much freedom and free capital as possible to get back on their feet. “The coronavirus pandemic is most certainly not the time to raise taxes,” Gulyas said.
Asked about the case of an Agriculture Ministry deputy state secretary who has been taken into custody on suspicion of bribery, Gulyas said the case demonstrated Hungary’s zero-tolerance approach to corruption. No one who finds himself in a corruption scandal can expect any form of support, be they a lawmaker or deputy state secretary, he added.
Asked why the Prime Minister’s Office was taking over the distribution of EU funds from the Ministry of Innovation and Technology from Jan. 1, Gulyas said that it was not the PM’s Office that had taken over the task but rather Minister Laszlo Palkovics who had proposed that it would be “more suited to the office’s profile” given the number of development schemes it handles.
Asked about plans to erect a statue dedicated to the Black Lives Matter movement in Budapest’s opposition controlled ninth district, Gulyas said BLM in the United States was a “fundamentally racist movement that doesn’t acknowledge white people and people of colour as equal”. This, he said, went against all of the 20th century’s human rights ideals. “So it’s not the ones who oppose a statue to BLM that are racist but the ones erecting it,” Gulyas insisted.