Freedom, freedom at last! As of this past Monday, the quarantine of Budapest has been lifted, with only limited restrictions remaining in place. The massive contained populace of the capital can now legally flock to the countryside, to enjoy the sun and fun that we have been dreaming of for weeks while staring out of our cramped apartment blocks. Soon we will be munching down on overpriced lángos on the beaches of Lake Balaton, exploring our past at the Skanzen in Szentendre, and lazily drifting around in the thermal waters of Hajdúszoboszló. But let’s not get too carried away with our newfound freedom, it does not hurt to keep a few things in mind before we venture out into the great wilderness beyond the M0 highway; coronavirus did not disappear overnight!
First off, I want to make it clear that this article is not some cranky get-off-my-lawn type warning, I am way too young for that. Letting Budapesters out beyond the city limits will hopefully kickstart the rural tourist industry that has suffered greatly in the past months. The many motels, bars, restaurants, thermal baths, etc. around the country have experienced losses in the billions of forints. While we cannot expect everyone to be full of vacation money after such a crisis, any business after a lockdown is good business. A temporary benefit for those of us that cannot stand the previously never-ending tide of tourists in Budapest and around the major tourist spots of Hungary, is that we have a few weeks to experience these sites without, well, tourists! Of course, as international travel restrictions continue to be lifted, much needed foreign tourists will return to slowly rebuild Hungary’s important tourist industry.
As mentioned above, coronavirus is still here, European governments have decided that both their healthcare systems and citizenry are now prepared enough to move forward with reopening our societies, but this is a process, not a one-off decision. This means that maybe we should think twice before gallivanting off to Lake Balaton with 50 of our friends and no masks. Masks are still required to be worn when entering shops, and social distancing is still encouraged. This is especially important for smaller communities that typically receive large numbers of tourists. These communities most likely do not have the same level of medical care available as larger cities, and large influxes of careless tourists could unwittingly cause uncontrollable outbreaks. For the safety of both locals and tourists, it is important that we all continue to observe recommended safety practices.
Many typical tourist destinations will need time to rebuild their tourism-related infrastructure to pre-coronavirus levels and will be unable to cope with the sudden influx of tourists that is about to arrive. Due to the cuts to municipal funding and general economic slowdown, the funding and manpower may simply not be available to suddenly deal with the host of problems that tourists bring with themselves. This is a vicious circle, as municipalities badly need the revenues from tourists. An example of this is garbage disposal, while Hungarian public transit has greatly increased its efforts to disinfect and keep its vehicles clean, rural parks may not be as ready for scores of inebriated youths wandering through.
It is important to continue the solidarity that we have developed during the pandemic in the recovery period that has just begun. As we slowly resume normal life, or whatever the “new normal” may be, we must stay responsible, keeping in mind that the virus is still very much a deadly threat.
Featured photo illustration by Márton Mónus/MTI