Viktor Orbán – Photo: MTI

Orbán outlines crisis management plans to lawmakers

Vaccines a precondition for a new start in Hungary, PM says

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán outlined his government's Covid-19 vaccination and economic recovery action plans in an address to lawmakers on Monday. By the end of May, Hungary can have 3.5 million more people vaccinated against Covid-19 than a European Union country of similar size that only uses vaccines procured from the West, Orbán said in a speech ahead of the agenda at the first plenary meeting of parliament's spring session.

The cabinet has left its protective measures unchanged since November, which has helped Hungary rein in the pandemic, Orbán said. Countries that continuously make changes to their response measures, he said, had seen the start of a strong third wave of the pandemic.

Orbán added, however, that case numbers were rising all across Europe, including in Hungary. Cases in Hungary have not declined for 10 days now and the pandemic’s downward trend has come to a halt, he said, adding that the country could see a possible uptick in cases again due to the easier spread of mutant variants of the virus. This was why, Orbán said, it was important for parliament to extend the special legal order and for the public to continue observing restrictions.

Concerning a reopening in the country, Orbán said the government’s aim was not only to “flip the ‘Closed’ sign over” but to fully reopen the entire economy and social civil life.

“We want to emerge stronger from this pandemic, stronger than how we entered it,” the prime minister said, calling vaccines procured in large enough quantities a precondition for a new start in Hungary.

Orbán said Hungary’s number one task was to procure as many vaccines as possible as quickly as possible. “We need every type of vaccine that works, is safe and has been used to inoculate millions of people worldwide,” he said.

Orbán noted that over a span of three months, Hungary will receive enough doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine to inoculate 1 million people. Meanwhile, Hungary has also purchased enough doses of China’s Sinopharm jab for 2.5 million vaccinations, he added.

The prime minister said that even with “the uncertainties around the rollout of vaccines in Europe”, it was certain that by the end of May, Hungary can have 3.5 million more people vaccinated than a European Union country of similar size that relies solely on Western vaccines.

Hungary also has a realistic chance to have more than 2 million people vaccinated by early April, with everyone over the age of 60 who has registered for a Covid shot being inoculated, he added.

Hungary needs every type of vaccine it can procure, as it is the instrument the can save lives and jobs in the current situation caused by the pandemic, Orbán said.

He noted that the government is launching a National Consultation public survey concerning when to lift restrictions, in which people will be asked to respond to seven questions.

Commenting on the state of the economy, Orbán said the government’s crisis management measures had focused on protecting jobs. The cabinet introduced a moratorium on loan repayments, a wage support scheme for troubled businesses, took over half of the wage costs of sectors most affected by the pandemic, scrapped the social contribution tax and halved the business tax, he noted. The government has disbursed 80 billion forints (EUR 223.0m) to struggling businesses as part of its wage support scheme, helping them save 250,000 jobs, he said. The investment support scheme has helped 1,434 companies so far, helping preserve 280,000 jobs, Orbán added.

He said once Hungary has access to enough vaccines, the government would begin to gradually ease restrictions.

The government has also launched an action plan to relaunch the economy, he said, adding that the cabinet was convinced that job creation, tax cuts and investment support were the key to a recovery.

Orbán listed the seven steps of the action plan, including a temporary reduction in the VAT rate on home construction from 27 percent to 5 percent, home renovation subsidies for families with at least one child, wage support for hard-hit sectors, an unprecedented wage increase for doctors, the gradual re-introduction of the annual pensioners’ bonus, a personal income tax exemption for Hungarians under the age of 25 and interest-free microloans for small businesses.

The next step to follow will be a large-scale investment support scheme which will be co-financed with the European Union. The higher education sector will be the greatest beneficiary of this scheme, involving an unprecedented 1,500-2,000 billion forints to be used for developing universities, he said.

Orbán said the current logic of crisis management was very different from that seen before 2010 when it had been mostly pensioners who had been forced to pay the price of crises.

Commenting on the gradual re-introduction of the 13th month pensioners’ bonus, he said it was an obligation to express respect for those that have built the country with their life’s work.

As regards the personal income tax exemption for Hungarians under the age of 25, he said the government considered it important that “young people should be able to stand on their own two feet and start an independent life”.

Orbán said Hungary was a strong country which “stood the test” of the epidemic.

He also said that the government’s plan for the months ahead would include completing mass vaccination, carrying out the public survey, to be followed by a gradual and cautious reopening of the economy in line with the public’s view expressed, and eventually restarting the economy.

Orbán asked MPs to support the government’s crisis management and economic recovery action plans irrespective of their party affiliation.

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