Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in a message on Good Friday that self-control remained the “best weapon” during the current novel coronavirus epidemic, and he urged Hungarians to observe social distancing.
Commenting on the extension of curfew restrictions for an indefinite period, he told public broadcaster Kossuth Rádió that conditions varied greatly in different localities, so a blanket rule for the entire nation would not be appropriate. This is why it has been decided that mayors are being given powers to introduce further local restrictions where needed, he said.
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The Prime Minister also noted that some countries are already witnessing the epidemic’s peak, but “there is no light at the end of the tunnel” in Hungary yet. Orbán added that the neighboring Austria is a test case for Hungary given its proximity to Italy and the fact that the epidemic is at a more advanced stage there along the timeline. So Hungary is monitoring which measures have worked in Austria and making the relevant assessments every time the country brings measures to combat the epidemic in Hungary, he added.
Commenting on his unannounced visits to hospitals, he said he will continue making them. “My instinct tells me that it’s necessary to go and gather information in the hospitals,” he said.
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The prime minister said that once Hungary has reached the stage of mass infections – which no other country had managed to avoid – around 7,500-8,0000 intensive-care beds and ventilators will be needed in order to care for the elderly. Hungary normally has around 2,000 ventilators. He added that the additional ventilators will also require additional doctors and nurses to operate them.
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Orbán said protective measures have been successful so far in terms of slowing down the spread of the epidemic. “But the great challenge – the real test – is still ahead of us.”
Commenting on Easter, he said people must accept that this year’s holiday would be different.
On the topic of Hungary’s political opposition, Orbán said: “There’s not much else on their minds other than how to undermine the government.” This is the case during the epidemic too, he said.
Commenting on economic protection measures prompted by the epidemic, he said the left wing traditionally resorted to austerity during a crisis, taking money away from pensioners, public servants and families. His government, however, took the opposite approach while putting jobs into the focus of its policymaking, he said. The main goal of current crisis management is to create as many jobs as the number of jobs destroyed by the virus, he said.
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Hungary, he added, currently “stands on its own two feet” and was not dependent on anyone financially. He insisted that the government’s economic protection plan would work and jobs would be restored. “The economy will return to its growth path.”
Orbán said caution was necessary when it came to involving banks and multinationals in the sharing of burdens. The right balance must be found, he said, adding that local councils and political parties must also participate in the sharing of burdens.
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Orbán said the financial foundations of the economic plan would be sufficient if everybody took part, and the economy would find its way back to a “straight path” within months.
Whereas the most optimistic projection of 2-3 percent growth forecast by Hungary’s central bank was unlikely to materialise, the huge cliff-face projections of some economists could be avoided, he said. He cited London-based financial analysts who said that Hungary had a good chance of successfully combatting the crisis with a good plan well executed.
Orbán rejected the approach of some countries to allow the budget deficit grow uncontrollably, saying that once the crisis was over, “they will find themselves being tossed about by creditors and speculators”. The Prime Minister said he considered a 3 percent budget deficit a red line that must not be crossed.
featured photo: Szilár Koszticsák/MTI