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The government views local councils as partners in the fight against the novel coronavirus, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office said on Wednesday.

Gergely Gulyás told the press that Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony and Károly Szita, the mayor of the city of Kaposvár and head of the association of cities with county rights, had attended Wednesday’s government meeting where responses to the novel coronavirus epidemic were discussed.

“Against all reports to the contrary … the government views local councils as partners … especially in the protection efforts against the novel coronavirus,” he said. Cooperation with local councils is necessary for the efforts to be effective, he added.

In the past days, without consultation, the government took away the car tax from local governments and channeled it to the coronavirus defence fund. PM Orbán also announced on Sunday that public parking would be free nation-wide from Monday on, stripping local governments of significant income. The government also planned to assign defence committees over mayors but dropped the bill 17 hours later.

Gulyás noted that the government-imposed curfew would lose effect on Saturday, that is why it was necessary to talk to the mayor of Budapest and the association of cities. He added that both partners had been “constructive” in the meeting.

He said political controversies were not timely and called for a cooperation irrespective of differences in opinion to successfully combat the epidemic.

Karácsony: Epidemic warrants national cooperation

Karácsony said at the press conference that the epidemic warrants nationwide cooperation. He welcomed an emerging dialogue between the government and local authorities and said that Budapest would do everything it can to enforce common decisions. He also called on residents to stay at home.

The city of Budapest and its districts have contributed to efforts of prevention and made preparations to tackle possible economic and social crises when the epidemic is over, Karácsony said. He said the government’s response had been positive to his request for early talks on the latter subject.

Karácsony said that current restrictions may be necessary to stay in place for another month, but added that it was up to the government to pass a decision, which the city would implement.

Karácsony said he had also asked the government to start coronavirus screening of inhabitants and staff in old-age homes “at least in Budapest” with no delay.

Szita calls for more stringent restrictions

Szita also called for maintaining the current restrictions and suggested that the rules could even be made more stringent in view of the upcoming Easter holidays.

Municipalities are facing the “burning task” of replanning their budgets, Szita said, arguing that those budgets had been made in “peace times” to finance investments, salary hikes and public events. “Now we have to reallocate resources for prevention and reviving the economy,” he said. He added that re-planning would take at least one month before local governments could start talks with the government on municipal financing from central coffers.

In the featured photo (from left to right): Gergely Karácsony, Gergely Gulyás, and Károly Szita. Photo by Zsolt Szigetváry/MTI

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