Hungary’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic is about to enter a new phase, with the start of the evening-night curfew being pushed back to midnight and shops and eateries staying open until 11pm from Saturday, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told public radio.
Eateries will also be allowed to reopen their indoor sections and serve customers with immunity certificates, Orbán said in his regular interview to Kossuth Radio. Hotels, leisure facilities, zoos, museums, cinemas, theatres, gyms and sporting venues will also reopen and can be visited by accompanied minors, he said.
With vaccinations reaching 3,911,000 million by Thursday evening, Hungary is certain to pass the 4 million mark on Friday, opening the door for the new regulations to be introduced on Saturday, Orbán said.
Meanwhile, he said Hungary will start vaccinating 16-18-year-olds with the Pfizer/BioNTech jab after May 10, when the secondary school-leaving exams are over.
Hungary now has enough vaccines to inoculate everyone who wants a shot, he said. “Now it’s all up to the people to get the vaccine,” Orbán added.
“But the pandemic isn’t over yet, and we have to behave responsibly,” the prime minister warned.
Orbán noted that 65 percent of those who earlier this year filled out the government’s National Consultation public survey on epidemic-related matters had said that the government’s virus restrictions should distinguish between those with and without immunity certificates. Also, those who are immune to the virus now make up the majority of the adult population and the rules should favour them, he said, adding that he saw no issues regarding the constitutionality of such an arrangement.
Orbán also noted that the foreign minister has been authorised to conclude bilateral agreements on the mutual recognition of Covid-19 immunity certificates “with countries that are important to us”. Hungary has already reached such deals with Montenegro and Serbia and talks are under way with other countries, too, he said.
Hungarian immunity certificates will be valid everywhere, Orbán said, dismissing reports that those who were inoculated with the Sinopharm jab would be barred from travelling abroad in the summer as “nonsense”.
Asked why sporting events would be allowed once vaccinations reach 4 million while wedding receptions would not, Orbán said it would be “hard to manage” a situation where those who are immune would have to be kept separate from those who are not.
Orbán said he did not know whether the next stage in the easing of restrictions would come when Hungary reaches 4.5 million vaccinations or 5 million. He added that Hungary should be proud that it was the only country in Europe to have more vaccines available than people registered for them.
Citing an internal survey, Orbán said 71 percent of those who sympathise with the government wanted to get vaccinated compared with 59 percent of left-wing voters.
“The left are anti-vaxxers, and this has an effect,” the prime minister said. He urged left-wing voters not to be influenced by the left’s “anti-vaxx campaign”, saying that vaccination was a national issue.
Orbán said the government welcomed a return to normalcy and that the public would now also pay attention to issues besides just the pandemic, for instance the restructuring of Hungary’s universities. He said Hungary’s higher education system was “extremely inflexible”.
“Whereas in the past we could be very proud of our universities, nowadays we have less reason to be,” he said. “There’s more in the higher education system that what is being extracted from it right now.”
“So much change is needed,” he said, adding that the world’s best universities were all run flexibly to some degree. After a small number of universities were restructured, seeing its positive impact, other universities followed suit, he said. Never before have universities enjoyed as much support as they do now, Orbán said.
The prime minister said that whereas university foundations elsewhere in the world had been established more organically, this had not been possible in Hungary since “the Communists nationalised everything”. Had that not been the case, universities would now be in better shape, he said.
Orbán insisted that the assets of foundations would be used solely for educational purposes, and the universities would be insulated from government influence.
Orbán called the “left-wing’s attack” on the transformation “political” and branded the Hungarian left wing as “internationalist”, adding that the best universities were “national”. The government, he added, did not intend for them to be globalist.
Meanwhile, addressing criticism that government emergency support during the pandemic was insufficient, the prime minister said such support was never enough. “Whoever receives it always complains they could have got more.”
He said government support was enough to reboot the economy. Support in itself, however, was not the measure of success, he said, adding that people who have run a business for a long time have had to overcome obstacles through hard work, and this is why the government has extended the period during which they receive wage subsidies and it is providing investment subsidies.
Orbán noted that the government body responsible for coordinating policies to relaunch the economy will soon be up and running and the government is working to restore the 13-month pension, while it has also made the personal income of the under-25s exempt from tax.
Featured photo via Viktor Orbán’s Facebook page