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The novel coronavirus outbreak in Hungary has not reached the stage of mass illnesses, but this is likely soon, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in an interview on Friday.

Medical professionals say large case numbers cannot be prevented, but the epidemic can be slowed down, Orbán told public broadcaster Kossuth Radio. The aim now is to slow down the virus’s spread so the health-care system can handle serious cases, he added.

“We have organised collective defence … the Hungarian community is ready to protect itself,” Orbán said. “We have a proper military plan of defence.”

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Orbán noted that of the 85 patients in the country, 6 of them are in a serious condition, one has died and seven have recovered.

He said it was expected that most patients in need of intensive care would be elderly but children with immunodeficiency were also endangered by the virus.

The prime minister said schools and designated kindergartens will accept the children of parents who cannot stay at home.

Orbán insisted that the government had acted promptly on the advice of epidemiologists and caught the spread of the virus at an early stage of the epidemic, but mathematical models indicated that whereas the spread of the virus can be slowed down, in time the disease would be roughly evenly distributed across Europe.

He said the situation in Italy had resulted from an explosion in the number of illnesses coupled with a collapsing health-care system, but Hungary is increasing capacity in terms of equipment and manpower and slowing down the number of people in need of intensive care. A plan is in place to replace health-care staff who become ill in the meantime, he added.

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Orbán dismissed concerns about a lack of equipment, saying Hungary’s stock was sufficient to handle the current infection rate. He said Hungarian health care has sufficient supplies to handle the current situation, but more equipment and materials are being procured to cope with an increasing number of patients.

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On the topic of protective gear, he said masks and protective clothing will be given to health-care staff first of all, then to public security staff and people working in public administration.

He noted that masks are being produced in Hungary in prisons and elsewhere, and the raw materials are being sourced.

“We are not pleading … we’re taking care of ourselves.” Orbán said officials are in place. “Our people are in Beijing and Shanghai at the airports,” he said. “Collective defence has been organised.”

The foreign ministry is taking care of Hungarians stranded abroad, the borders are closed, and humanitarian corridors are in place, he said, adding that there are a sufficient number of soldiers and police officers, and an epidemic hospital is under construction.

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Regarding economic measures, Orbán said the aim was to ensure that as few people lose their jobs as possible, and for those who do, they should get back to work as soon as possible. Whereas it is not possible to ensure this in all circumstances, help would be available to those who lose their jobs, he said, adding that the government is helping small businesses with a view to preventing layoffs.

He said various government-decreed measures to help consumers ease their loan obligations would also ensure that “what’s built over the last ten years will be reset”.

Orbán noted the amount of repayments to banks in the country totals an annual 3,600 billion forints. Asked whether banks were cooperating, he said: “From their reactions, yes.”

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He noted that taxi drivers, caterers and hoteliers will enjoy tax relief for the duration of the crisis but further steps would be needed in this area.

Speaking about the elderly, he said:”If there’s a mass epidemic, they will face the greatest dangers and we’re concerned about them.” He said it would be preferable not to create mandatory rules for the elderly, but “I’m asking the elderly … to stay at home”. Orbán added that local councils had a duty to care for the elderly at home.

Featured photo by Zoltán Máthé/MTI

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