The first phase of protective measures against the novel coronavirus will end next weekend and the government will introduce new rules to replace the curfew restrictions in order to gradually restart life, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said on Friday.
In the first phase, Hungary was prepared for a worst-case scenario, Orbán told public Kossuth radio. The second phase will involve a strict schedule for restarting life in Hungary, he added. The precondition for this will be to still protect the most vulnerable people, including the elderly, the chronically ill and residents of big cities, he said. Special rules will be introduced for them, which are currently being planned, Orbán added.
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Hungary is keeping an eye on Austria’s schedule of reopening shops, schools and museums, he said.
“Perhaps they are progressing a little bit faster than what my life instinct tells me would be suitable in Hungary,” he added.
Orbán said, however, that Hungary should follow Austria in a disciplined and calm manner. “We should not progress as quickly as the Austrians but we should not fall too far behind, either,” he added.
Commenting on the rules planned for big cities, he said that authorising mayors for weekends to introduce extra restrictions had worked well so far. After May 4, general rules will be put in place and mayors in “special” cities will be authorised to implement their own restrictions, he added.
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Concerning the decision to free up hospital beds, he said the government had to create the right conditions to ensure that no patient gets neglected.
“If we do not want to live life endlessly locked up, like being in a bunker, or until a vaccine is found, the timing of which is uncertain … then we have two possibilities,” he said. Once life is successfully restarted, “there could be some surprises” if the virus breaks loose, Orbán said. Several tens of thousands of hospital beds and thousands of ventilators would be needed, which would be impossible to provide, he added.
As a result, the responsible course of action is to prepare the capacities for a worst-case scenario, he said. The first phase of protection against the virus aimed to slow down the spread of the virus, in order to prepare the health-care system for an unprecedented load of work, he added.
Orbán said not a single Hungarian would be left behind, “we will fight for everyone”.
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Commenting on the economy, he said the situation was hardest for employees and this was why more jobs had to created, in order to replace those that had been lost.
The job-seekers’ allowance is granted for 3 months and “we are only past the fortieth day, so it will last for a while longer”, he added. He expressed hope that “by the time we get to the end of it”, the job preservation measures introduced would return the economy to almost the same rate of growth as where it had been before the epidemic. He added that he expected a fast recovery.
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Commenting on Thursday’s European Union summit, he said Hungary had not received any extra money from the EU for protective measures against the epidemic.
An agreement was made at the meeting to make more money from the 2021-2027 EU budget available in the first and second years to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Orbán said.
He added that the “rigid” conditions for spending this money will be streamlined and made more flexible.
Orbán said the leaders agreed that a budget of a “much larger scale” than earlier is necessary, requiring bigger contributions by all member states.
“Everybody will pay more money, Hungary too,” he said.
Orbán said the sides failed to reach an agreement on whether monies exceeding the budget allocation that must be mobilised to deal with the economic fallout from the pandemic should be credit, backed by the EU, or grants.
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Commenting on criticism against the Hungarian law on coronavirus epidemic measures, he said he was not concerned by the criticism voiced from capitals of nation states, such as from Berlin. “It has the same importance as what we in Budapest think about Berlin … the difference being is that we are more polite and we do not always say what we think,” he added.
He said Brussels was a different case: “Brussels has been taken over by bureaucrats and the room for reason is more limited”.
Orbán noted, as “the most important” piece of news during the week, the publication of a proposal by the US billionaire George Soros that the EU should issue perpetual bonds — securities with no maturity date on which only interest, not principal, is paid — to finance a fund to fight the pandemic.
Orbán warned that the proposal, which he dubbed the “Soros Plan 2.0”, is “at least as dangerous” to the EU as an earlier proposal by Soros to resettle migrants in Europe.
Featured photo illustration by Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI