The government will keep coronavirus-related restrictions in place until February 1, and secondary schools will continue digital education, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said on Friday.
In an interview with public broadcaster Kossuth Radio, Orbán said the restrictions will be maintained until enough vaccines are at hand.
Unlike in the West, the Hungarian government is unwilling to change the regulations until there are enough doses at hand, he said.
The doses delivered to Hungary so far are only enough to inoculate 80,000 people, Orbán said. That is why the operative body responsible for handling the epidemic had decided to keep restrictions in place, he said, adding that “although it feels like we have slowed the epidemic down, it is still a great danger.”
The vaccines are safe and necessary, Orbán said, adding that he will be inoculated “when it is my turn”.
So far, 42,549 health-care workers have received their first jab, Orbán said, adding that “initial objections seem to have subsided”. Inoculation is ongoing in elderly care homes, and will start in all facilities with more than 150 residents over the weekend, he said. Currently, 80 percent of all residents and 50 percent of employees have registered for vaccination, he said.
Orbán said that the difference between the mortality rate in 2019 and 2020 — “with small corrections” — corresponded to the total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Hungary. In international comparison, that number puts Hungary ahead of states such as Belgium, Italy, Spain, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden and France, he said. “Although I would be wary of using the word ‘success’ in this context,” he said.
“Victory”, the vaccine, is at arm’s length, PM Viktor Orbán said. Rather than just waiting for it, Hungary is in talks with Israel, China and Russia as well as western suppliers, he said.
In the EU “we are waiting for the vaccine to arrive”, which is “frustrating”, he said.
Hungary had contracted 8.5 million doses of the vaccine, he said.
Orbán congratulated the United Kingdom, which negotiated vaccine procurement on its own after leaving the EU on January 1. “They are now in much better shape than we are, with our protection efforts going through Brussels.”
Orbán said he expected this to circle back to the question of only transferring powers to Brussels that it can be guaranteed to exercise more effectively than member states. Member states should have control over significantly more areas than they currently do, Orbán said, adding that Brussels should give a portion of its powers back to nation states.
Concerning Hungary’s unemployment rate, Orbán said that the country had lost just 26,000 jobs to the crisis. “There are few such countries in the world, not to mention that we will regain these jobs as well,” the prime minister said, adding that the economy would eventually add even more jobs.
“I want to do more than just avert the crisis; I want 2021 to be an outstanding year for Hungarians,” Orbán said. “The first few months will be rocky, but the economy must hit the ground running afterwards.” He said Hungary should emerge from the crisis having overtaken countries that had earlier been ahead of it in terms of competitiveness and economic output.
Orbán said the government’s economic protection measures were focused mainly on supporting investments with a view to creating jobs, though emphasis was also being placed on wage subsidies.
The prime minister said it was also important that the government had been able to carry on with its family support and home creation programmes and the reintroduction of the 13th month pension.
“Hungary’s crisis management . has an excellent chance of being classified among the most successful ones at the end of 2021,” Orbán said. How successful those efforts will be, however, depended greatly on when the government will be able to lift restrictions, he added. “In other words, the vaccine will be a determining factor in how successful the economy will be this year,” he said.
Orbán said that if Hungary relied solely on the Covid vaccines developed in the West, it would have to keep restrictions in place for several more months. However, if a safe and effective vaccine is found elsewhere, this process can be speeded up, the prime minister added.
Featured photo illustration by Zoltán Máthé/MTI