The novel coronavirus in Hungary is spreading at a faster pace than ever, putting the country under increasing pressure until a vaccine is at hand, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said on Sunday.
In an interview with public broadcaster Kossuth Radio, Orbán said that the government was ready to open additional hospitals and to assign more doctors and nurses “in an effort to keep up with the task”. Orbán noted that mathematicians had estimated, at the severe end of the scale, that Hungary may contend with 200,000 coronavirus infections, with 16,000 requiring hospitalisation and 800 to 1,000 patients on ventilators.
The government has made preparations to accommodate twice that number, he said. “Just to be on the safe side”, the government is calculating with the epidemic to peak with 400,000 cases, which would require the availability of 32,000 hospital beds and a sufficient number of doctors and nurses.
Orbán said he expected the second wave of the coronavirus epidemic to last longer and be more difficult than the first one. He said it would require restructuring while simultaneously increasing health-care workers’ capability of carrying burdens.
Commenting on the agreement reached between the government and the Hungarian Chamber of Doctors (MOK) on substantially raising the wages of doctors, Orbán said the chamber had been “pushing” its proposals to the government over several months, triggering a debate in the cabinet on whether a substantial wage hike in the sector would be in conflict with necessary economy protection measures.
“This is the moment when we need to stand together, when we need to achieve a breakthrough in improving doctors’ pay, and, if we work together, we will succeed together again,” Orbán said, noting that on MOK’s proposal, gratuity payments were going to be eliminated from the system.
In connection with the European Commission’s recently released Rule of Law report, Orbán said “the picture has become clear as one followed the sequence of events”. The EC first released a migration plan which the Visegrad Group rejected, Orbán said. A next step was the Commission’s Vice-President Vera Jourová “attacking Hungary” and “branding Hungarians as idiots” which Orbán said was “unacceptable”.
“A top EU official cannot be allowed to speak in disrespectful terms about the citizens of any member state, including Hungarians,” Orbán said, adding that had the EC Vice-President spoken in such a tone about the Germans or French, she “would have been fired in an instant”.
“We want equal treatment, as we will not tolerate being offended the same way Germans or French would refuse to be,” the prime minister said.
Orbán said the third step after Jourová’s “attack” was the EC’s releasing its Rule of Law report. Orbán called the document a “Soros report”, adding that 12 of the 13 source organisations referenced in it had received financial support from the US financier. He said the EC report was “an open, coordinated attack”. Orbán said he suggested to the European Commission to “consider carefully” its strengths and the challenges posed by the global coronavirus pandemic.
He said protection measures should be in focus, but instead, “member states are being attacked, the issue of migration is being raised again and incomprehensible rule of law disputes are being generated”.
As regards the letter he had sent to Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, in which he called for the resignation of Vera Jourová, Orbán said he had yet to receive an answer.
Orbán insisted that European politicians were “tense” because the EU’s share of world economy has shrunk from 24-25 percent twenty years ago to some 15 percent today.
Instead of working to determine the root of the problem, the nation states are “at each other’s throats,” Orbán said, adding that in such a situation, EU leaders should be supporting cooperation between member states rather than “insulting and attacking them with Soros reports and migration”, Orbán said.
Regarding the EU’s economic recovery package designed to mitigate the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, Orbán said Hungary “is not happy about the idea of a loan taken out jointly by the member states, to be paid back over the course of 30 years,” but was ready to go along with it to aid the countries urgently needing financial help.
Orbán insisted that proposals by fiscally conservative states sometimes called the “frugal” group were risking to derail the recovery package. If that should happen, the Hungarian government proposed that the states most hit by the pandemic obtained aid through inter-governmental agreements, without involving EU institutions in the process, he said.
Meanwhile, Brussels should focus on pandemic defence rather than making funding conditional on “complicated legal requirements”, as that could “financially rattle certain countries,” Orbán said.
Marking the tenth anniversary of the 2010 red sludge disaster, when a reservoir burst and flooded three villages near Ajka, central Hungary, Orbán said the reconstruction showed “the greatness of the Hungarian nation … and the strength of cooperation”. The government did not leave victims by the wayside but helped to reconstruct the area, he said.
Commenting on a children’s tale book which sparked controversy by retelling classical fairy tales featuring sexual and other minorities as main characters, Orbán called discussions regarding homosexuality “complicated”. “Hungary is tolerant and patient regarding homosexuality. But there is a red line that shouldn’t be crossed, and that is how I would like to sum up my opinion: leave our children alone,” Orbán said.
Featured photo by Zoltán Máthé/MTI