Speaking of government measures to rein in the ‘incalculable’ impact of the new coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said on Friday that the primary goal is to keep the number of cases and fatalities to a minimum while the government is already “making plans for tomorrow and the day after”.
In a regular interview to public Kossuth Radio, Orbán insisted there were two “frontiers”, the Covid-19 outbreak and migration. Mobility spreads the disease, “and migration is mobility itself”, he said.
Hungary has successfully protected itself against migration, and continues to oppose European bureaucrats’ proposals of a distribution system, he said.
Hungary is capable of defending its stance on migration and refuses to give in to Brussels’s “flawed migration policy”, Orbán said.
Only Hungarians have the right to decide whom they will allow into their country, the prime minister said. “This is a Hungarian matter, it’s about our life and our country and we won’t allow anyone to destroy our way of life and hard-fought achievements with bad ideas, advice or instructions,” Orbán said.
The prime minister said he understood the “tender-hearted” statements he said western European leaders often made, adding, however, that these remarks tended to come off as “lecturing”. Orbán said he ignores these “words of advice” because the European leaders who give them “live in an alternate reality”. He added that Hungarians should be left to protect their country and way of life from migration.
The economic consequences of the Covid-19 epidemic are “incalculable“, and warrant a full review of Hungary’s 2020 budget and the planned budget for 2021, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said.
Orbán said the budgets of local authorities and institutions would have to be revised as well.
The government is working on economic protection action plans for specific sectors, he said, as not all areas will be equally hit. A new action plan and a corresponding budget must be devised with an aim to “restart a stalled economy”, he said.
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Orbán also said Hungary’s legal system gave the government the power to work out swift and effective measures in response to the outbreak, which “it will not hesitate to impose”.
The prime minister cautioned Hungarians against “entertaining the illusion” that the outbreak would be over within a few weeks.
This will go on for many months to come and we have to expect that our lives will change. Things won’t be like they normally are because we have to implement certain measures to counter the epidemic.”
Orbán stressed that Hungary for now was only dealing with individual coronavirus cases and working to prevent clusters of cases. “I wouldn’t bet on us succeeding there, but for now we’re strengthening that line of defence that separates individual cases from clusters,” he said.
He said that unlike in most European countries, Hungary’s constitution grants the government the power to suspend or subvert general constitutional principles in extraordinary situations and enact measures that are warranted depending on the severity of the given situation. The state of emergency, he said, could eventually warrant measures like bringing factories under state control.
It lies somewhere between the peaceful times of democracy and the state of war so you have to be careful with it.”
Orbán said he had proposed announcing the state of emergency after having seen that most European countries were failing to contain the virus. He noted that the state of emergency declared by the government on Wednesday could remain in force for a period of two weeks, after which time parliament’s approval would be necessary for an extension.
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Meanwhile, he said claims that the epidemic was over in China were false, explaining that the country had only passed the peak of the outbreak. Noting that it took 5-6 months for the outbreak to peak in China, he argued that the number of coronavirus cases in Europe would continue rising for months to come.
“We can’t escape the virus,” he said, adding that the conditions of the Covid-19 patients in Hungary could yet worsen. “Because there are no drugs to counter the virus, all we can do is prevent it from spreading,” the prime minister said, noting that this was the reason why a strict response was necessary.
Orbán thanked the nurses, doctors and disease control experts dealing with the virus. He said the government was capable of mobilising the necessary number of health professionals to counter the virus, adding that though there was no shortage of the required medical equipment, he had ordered the procurement of spare supplies.
He stressed that human life is the priority, for which there are “no financial restrictions” to the emergency measures.
Orbán said Hungary was on the right track in its response to the outbreak. “We’ve faced many crisis situations and in times like these the people of Hungary stick together,” he said. “They perform exceptionally in times of trouble and have what it takes to work together to contain the virus.”
Hungary is also in close contact with other countries in the region, Orbán said, adding that the most important thing was for the various countries to share their experiences with the virus with each other.
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Concerning the closure of universities, Orbán said the government had decided to close campuses because of the “tens of thousands” of foreign nationals studying there. He added that because foreign students could not be separated from Hungarian students, it seemed reasonable to close campuses.
The prime minister said the government had opted against closing schools because children are less at risk of infection or if they do get infected, they tend to recover without getting sick. He added that the government would reconsider its decision if the situation changed.
“What matters is that the elderly should interact with as few people as possible,” Orbán said.
He added that school closures would mean the end of the school year, forcing teachers to go on leave without pay.
Featured photo by Zoltán Máthé/MTI