Gergely Gulyas – Photo: MTI

Frontline workers and the elderly will be the first to be inoculated

Vaccine to be voluntary, free of charge

The Hungarian government is committed to providing voluntary and free vaccination against the coronavirus, the head of the Prime Minister's Office told a regular press briefing on Thursday.

Gergely Gulyas said anyone who wants to get vaccinated should register at Registration forms will also be delivered by post from Friday, he said, adding that registration will be used to gauge the demand for the vaccine.

The first doses of vaccines are expected to reach Hungary at the end of this year or early next year, and frontline workers and the elderly will be the first to be inoculated.

Gulyas said it was too early to tell whether the epidemic had peaked in Hungary, adding that the government hoped infections had flat-lined and fatalities would start to fall soon. The number of hospitalised coronavirus patients is still below 8,000, and ICU beds are still available, he said.

He said Hungary was now among the countries conducting the most tests. Teachers and health-care workers have been tested in two rounds, and this week is dedicated to the testing of public servants, all of whom will have been tested by January at the latest, he said.

Gulyas noted that the government had extended coronavirus-related restrictions until Jan. 11, and will decide on special measures for the Christmas period on Dec. 21.

Zoltan Kovacs, the state secretary for international communications, told the news briefing that the government was awaiting a decision at the EU summit today that would hopefully obviate the need for Hungary and Poland to wield their vetoes of the European Union budget. “We suspected right from the start that some frugal countries might not want this agreement and would only use the central European countries’ rule-of-law issue as an excuse, so the truth will now emerge,” he said.

Kovacs said Hungary had acted in the spirit of solidarity by giving its approval to the recovery fund which requires taking out a loan.

Gergely Gulyas, the prime minister’s chief of staff, said the draft agreement that Hungary and Poland had hashed out with the German presidency included all key guarantees. “We have every right to say that, in this case, the Hungarian and Polish position has prevailed,” Gulyas said, adding that thanks to a staunch willingness to compromise, a document had come about that included all guarantees required by the two countries.

Commenting on the preparation of operative plans required to draw money from the European recovery fund, he said the government’s aim was to “invite many tenders without delay” in early January, adding that the launch of as many large EU projects as possible was an important means to manage the crisis.

In reply to a question on the situation of Transcarpathian Hungarians, Gulyas said a negative trend started in Ukraine with the language law 2-3 years ago, followed by “lawsuits based on trumped-up charges against ethnic Hungarian political leaders” and aggressive actions against their organisations.

He said that if good neighbourly relations and Euro-Atlantic integration were important to Ukraine, then it must take resolute action against these trends. Unless ethnic Hungarians living there are treated as citizens with full rights, Hungary, he added, would not approve any of their accession plans.

Assessing the results of elections in Romania, he congratulated the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ) and its leader for achieving good results “in an extremely difficult and completely unique situation”. He added that despite an “anti-Hungarian party also making its way into” Romanian parliament, it would be impossible to create a central-right government majority without the RMDSZ today. “So the party will play a key role in coalition talks.”

Regarding the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine, Gulyas said a centralised campaign is necessary to motivate people to get inoculated. According to current polls, some 30 to 60 percent of Hungarians are willing to be vaccinated, while a 60-70 percent inoculation rate is necessary to achieve herd immunity.

The data from vaccine registration is being handled by the cabinet office, which is responsible for the campaign, he said.

Regarding opening times of shops on Christmas Eve, Gulyas noted the trade union of retail workers have said shopping times for the elderly would restrict opening times to a point “where it may not make sense to open at all”.

The government is also consulting with retail organisations and the Council of the Elderly on handling overcrowding in shops, he said. The government is open to new measures and will announce them on Friday or Saturday in the event such measures are taken, he said. Petards and fireworks will be banned this year, he added.

On the topic of public sector wage hikes, Gergely Gulyas, the prime minister’s chief of staff, told the press briefing that no decision had emerged yet, pending a possible agreement on a minimum wage increase.

An additional 500 billion forints (EUR 1.4bn) of epidemic-related health-care spending has been required, and an increase in salaries for health-care employees next year alone will add another 300 billion forints to spending, he said.

By 2022, a nurse will earn two-and-a-half times their wage before 2016, and sector wage hikes in this government term will have added up to 72 percent, he added.

With the extension of the current special legal order, sectors most affected by the coronavirus crisis will continue to receive wage subsidies. As well as a holiday on employee contributions, the state is paying half of wages, he noted.

Regarding the government’s decision to ban local councils from raising taxes, Gulyas said the rule applied to Fidesz and opposition-run municipalities alike, and the government would take firm action to stop any council from attempting to bypass the rule.

In response to a question in connection with former deputy state secretary Janos Nagy, who is suspected of graft, Gulyas said all state contracts involving Nagy should be reviewed and, where possible, terminated immediately.

On the subject of Fidesz’s membership of the European People’s Party, Gulyas said Fidesz had the option of gaining membership of several political party families or of staying in the EPP.

“For now, we want to clarify our relationship with the People’s Party,” he said, adding that if the outcome were positive, then Fidesz would remain a member. “If not, the Conservative party family would be an obvious alternative,’ he said.

He insisted that the EPP needed Fidesz more than the other way around. “We’re glad to help the People’s Party if there’s a need for that, but if there isn’t, of course there are other alternatives.”


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