Fighting the coronavirus epidemic requires “quickness and an ability to respond”, which justifies the government’s reintroduction of a special legal order, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office told a press conference following a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
Gergely Gulyás said that the situation was deteriorating globally and especially in Europe, and “Hungary is no exception”. He added, however, that Hungary was 10th out of the European Union’s 27 member states in terms of the number of infections, while Hungary’s mortality rate was “about half of the EU average”.
Concerning the curfew and the restrictions on public events, Gulyás told a press conference that the authorities would be “much stricter and more consistent” in enforcing the restrictions.
Gulyás said shops, restaurant and club owners had “a great responsibility”, warning that facilities could be closed if proprietors were unable to enforce the rules on their premises.
He said the decision to close entertainment venues was modeled after practices seen elsewhere in Europe.
In response to a question, Gulyás said all of the government’s measures, with the exception of the rule on the closure of entertainment venues, served the protection of the elderly. He noted that Katalin Novák, the minister for family affairs, had convened the Council of the Elderly on Monday with the aim of involving the elderly in the government’s decisions.
The head of the Prime Minister’s Office also said that the government had not consulted the Budapest municipal council or any of the major localities before deciding on the new measures.
Gulyás expressed hope that the new measures would be effective in slowing the spread of the virus. He said it was estimated to take 8-14 days for the government’s new measures to have an effect on the epidemic.
Gulyás added, at the same time, that the real solution to the epidemic would be a vaccine. “But until then it’s important that the spread of the virus can be slowed by complying with these regulations,” he said.
Asked about recent comments by a European Commission spokesperson coronavirus vaccines obtained from outside the European Union must comply with the bloc’s quality standards and approval procedures, Gulyás said Hungary was keeping tabs on the development of Covid-19 vaccines in the United States, Russia and China. The vaccine purchased by Hungary would not be put on the market, he said. The vaccine would be procured by the state and be made available to the public free of charge.
Asked what the prime minister had meant on Tuesday when he said Hungary’s hospitals could be pushed to the limits of their capacity by December, Gulyás said 32,000 of the country’s 66,000-67,000 hospital beds could be occupied by coronavirus patients by the middle of next month. Gulyas said that even according to the most pessimistic estimates, the number of patients who would need to be put on ventilators was not expected to exceed 10,000.
Hospitals could make more beds available by suspending non-urgent procedures, he said. Certain hospitals have already postponed them and the government could order all hospitals to do the same, he added.
Hungary has enough hospital beds, staff, nurses and doctors at its disposal, the PMO Chief said, adding that there were also plans to enlist junior and senior medical students as assistants.
Asked about coronavirus testing procedures, he said Hungary was carrying out tests in accordance with the protocols recommended by the World Health Organisation while keeping an eye on a variety of testing practices, including the countrywide testing operation in Slovakia.
Asked if schools would have to be closed, Gulyás said the government believed the latest round of restrictions would be enough to slow the epidemic and schools could stay open. No further restrictions are required in the public education system, he said, noting that the country must continue to function.
Gulyás also reiterated that teachers who were forced to stay home due to being infected with the virus were entitled to their full salary during sick leave.
Asked about the organisation of football matches, the PM’s Office chief said they would be going ahead, arguing that the risk of infection was considerably lower outdoors than in enclosed spaces. He reaffirmed stadiums that violate or fail to enforce the regulations would be closed. If the rules are broken in too many stadiums, the matches will be held behind closed doors, he added.
Gulyás also said that the operative board in charge of coronavirus-related measures would meet at 6am daily or every other day in future, with the prime minister attending. The cabinet will meet once a week, he added. Asked about the new restrictions, Gulyás said the government was prepared to introduce more if necessary.
Fighting the epidemic requires “quickness and an ability to respond”, which justifies the government’s reintroduction of a special legal order, he said.
Gulyás said the government would propose that parliament should extend the special legal order, introduced now for 15 days, by another 90 days. He appealed to the opposition to support the motion, saying that “if they do not contribute to prevention efforts they should not keep thwarting them”.
Gulyás also said that the reintroduction of the special legal order also meant that by-elections would be cancelled across the country.
He said the reason why parliament has been asked to extend the special legal order by 90 days was because as things currently stand this time frame appears to be enough to slow the spread of the virus. Lawmakers may lift the special legal order earlier, he added.
Gulyás said that after receiving criticism from the opposition for not providing a time frame for the special legal order in the spring, the government hoped that this time it would win the backing of the opposition parties as well.
Featured photo by Tibor Illyés/MTI