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“Hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in connection with the novel coronavirus epidemic in a public radio interview on Friday.

Orbán told Kossuth Radio the time had not yet come when it was possible to relax restrictions. The prime minister said it wanted people’s lives to return to normal but he dare not tell them to relax.

Looking to Austria, he added, if some restrictions are lifted there without a corresponding increase in infections, then Hungary will also consider easing some of them. “Let’s be glad that for once, we’re not the guinea pigs,” he added.

Meanwhile, Orbán said it was inevitable that special rules for Budapest would have to be introduced. He noted that 60 percent of infections are in Budapest, while this figure rises to 80 percent taking Budapest and Pest County together. It would not make sense to implement the exact same measures in a small village and in the capital, so it may be time to start considering different rules for different municipalities as early as next week, the prime minister said.

Orbán said special measures implemented by mayors in their cities and towns for the Easter holidays had proven effective, so they will again be given the authority to impose restrictions for this coming weekend.

He said the peak was “still ahead of us” and the hard part was just about to arrive, with the number of Covid-19 cases likely to accelerate in the coming days. “We’re entering a period of mass infections,” he said, adding however that a sufficient number of hospital beds, ventilators, and health-care staff would be available to handle it.

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The preventative measures implemented so far have allowed Hungary to buy time and prepare hospitals for coping with the outbreak, Orbán said. “Our stocks are full,” he said, adding that hospitals and nursing homes have received enough supplies to last 10 days. “We have the ammunition needed in this war-like situation,” the prime minister said, adding that supplies were constantly being restocked.

Concerning the government order to hospitals to vacate a proportion of their beds, Orbán pointed out that just ten coronavirus cases in each of Hungary’s more than a thousand elderly care homes would result in 10,000 people in need of hospital care.

The aim is to have 8,000 functioning ventilators and more than 30,000 hospital beds for treating Covid-19 patients in the event of a worst-case scenario, Orbán said, conceding that it was not easy to create the conditions to treat such a large number of patients.

He added, at the same time, that since 34 percent of Hungary’s 68,000 hospital beds had been unoccupied, only 16 percent of patients waiting for non-urgent surgery had to be sent home. These “difficult decisions” were made on the basis of guidelines issued by a medical board, he said, emphasising that “there is no other way to resolve this issue”.

We’re right in the middle of a military-like operation,”

Orbán said, adding that this came with certain inconveniences.

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The prime minister praised the efforts of hospital directors, doctors and nurses in their fight against the virus. Concerning the decision to appoint so-called hospital commanders to oversee hospitals, he said:

Our hospital directors are also doing a good job, but indeed, finances weren’t as tight in peace time as they’d be expected to be during an epidemic, so it was necessary to appoint hospital commanders.”

Hospital directors normally have a high degree of autonomy, he said, adding, however, that they had a duty to comply with the decisions of the operative board coordinating the response to the epidemic.

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Commenting on the case of the elderly care home in Budapest run by the municipality that experienced mass infections, Orbán said the issue could not go without consequences, but now was not the time to find responsibility but to come together and fight problems. Once the epidemic is over, then it will be the right time to return to the issue of care homes run by the municipality, he added.

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On the topic of decision-making regarding the economy, the prime minister said he was optimistic, “though the proof of the pudding is in the eating”. Orbán said he was not as hopeful as central bank leaders who are confident Hungary’s economy will continue to grow. “It would be a big deal if we were able to get past the crisis close to zero [growth].”

Orbán said that economic players should take note that the economy would no longer look the same after the epidemic.

Some things will endure while there’ll be others that can’t be saved.”

Businesses will have to adapt and look hard at which activities can remain profitable after the epidemic, he said, adding that certain markets will be lost forever. Employees will also have to consider whether their job will be a part of their profession in the future, he said.

The prime minister noted that the government is providing wage subsidies and tax cuts that will leave more than 200 billion forints in the economy.

On the subject of tourism, he noted that the sector employs 400,000 people and the most help was needed in this area. The government is waiving tourist tax and increasing in the amount that employees can draw on their benefit-in-kind SZÉP cards.

He said that if Austria’s measures to ease restrictions work, then Hungary may also follow suit and breathe life into domestic tourism during the summer.

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Commenting on the government’s decision to phase in a 13-month pension, the prime minister said the previous left-wing government had stripped pensioners of the payment in times of crisis, but starting in 2021, the 13-month pension would start to be restored.

Featured photo by Zoltán Máthé/MTI

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