Terraces will be reopening in Hungary once 3.5 million vaccinations are reached, according to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Wednesday Facebook post. The Prime Minister believes this milestone may be achieved some time around Wednesday or Thursday of next week, following the Monday reopening of kindergartens and certain elementary school classes. Restaurants, pubs, and cafés will be able, without paying a terrace fee, to serve their customers outdoors. While this comes as great news for many, it does not indicate that the epidemic is over, since the third wave is still taking a heavy toll on Hungarians.
Despite the exceptional vaccination rate, the coronavirus is still a serious issue Hungary faces, causing hundreds of deaths and thousands of new infections every day. With 256 deaths and 5,307 new infections reported in the last 24 hours, Hungary has the highest rolling average in the world for daily deaths, and its vaccination rate does not yet appear to be significantly reducing its infection rate.
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Unfortunately, while it would be much safer for catering businesses to remain closed, they have already had incredible difficult making it this far. Not only have restaurants, pubs, and cafés had to let go of many of their employees, 30-40 percent of them may not even be able to reopen due to having depleted their reserve funds.
The Long Awaited Reopening
Fidesz representative Lajos Kósa told Debrecen Televízió in January that Hungarians may be able to go to pubs and bars again in March, but this did not end up happening.
At the end of March, Head of the Prime Minister’s Office Gergely Gulyás stated that Hungarians will be able to sit down at restaurants’ terraces in April “by all means.”
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Zoltán Gál Pál, president of the Hungarian Hospitality Employers’ Association (VIMOSZ), told MTI on Wednesday that catering businesses can get their workforces into operation relatively quickly, that they are grateful for the absence of any terrace fees, and that they are already getting their terraces ready for reopening.
Restaurants expect that they will be able to accept customers in a way similar to how they could in November, with sanitization, mandatory masks, and minimization of personal contact.
The president also said that the association has come up with a reopening system which ensures that Hungarian restaurants can compete effectively with other European counterparts.
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To achieve long term stability, VIMOSZ suggests the continuation of wage subsidies and reasonable taxes, as well as a temporary suspension of the four percent tourism development fee.
Immunity Required for Customers, Not Workers?
It appears that while vaccination will not be mandatory for waiters and waitresses, it may be the case for customers.
Government officials have emphasized that they are taking into consideration the results of the national consultation, in which 65 percent of Hungarians agreed that those with an immunity certificate should be given exemptions from certain restrictions.
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Viktor Orbán brought this up in his Kossuth Rádió interview on March 19, saying that “there will be period of time when certain services will be available to those with an immunity certificate.” However, no decision has been made on the matter.
Gergely Gulyás confirmed during Thursday’s government press conference that workers in the catering industry do not need to be vaccinated for work once restrictions on terraces are lifted.
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The head of the prime minister’s office also stated that restaurants will continue to receive wage subsidies in May, that a reopening manual is being prepared for catering businesses, and that if missing Janssen vaccines are replaced, all of Hungary’s population could receive their first jab of a vaccine by the end of May.
Featured photo illustration by Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI