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Apr 30, 2020 - Zoltán Kovács

Gergely Gulyás: Hungary is prepared, and its coronavirus defense now moves to the second stage

Following PM Orbán’s announcement last night that Hungary can now begin a gradual return to normal life and business, Minister Gergely Gulyás today provided details on how the country will move forward with the second phase of its coronavirus defense. He noted some economic stimuli for tourists this summer and also had some direct words for the local opposition and Donald Tusk.

Last night, Prime Minister Orbán announced that life can now restart in Hungary, but that “we must act gradually and according to a strict timetable.”

Today, Gergely Gulyás, minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office, provided some details on what the government plans for this second phase of the country’s coronavirus defense at the Government Info session. Gulyás reported that the first phase has now come to an end, adding that “the virus will be with us for a longer period of time, but our healthcare system is now prepared for this.”

“Thanks to 50 days of hard work, we are in a situation where we are also prepared for the stage of large-scale disease,” Gulyás said. The number of infected people in Hungary is relatively low, he said, adding that they must still prepare for the worst and luckily now have enough ventilators for any spike in coronavirus cases.

Starting on May 4, the defense will move to its second stage. The goal remains the same: to guarantee the safety of those at risk. Currently, 70 percent of active infections are in the Central Hungarian region, and 70 percent of deaths have been in and around Budapest. Thus, movement restrictions will remain in force in these areas. Additionally, representative testing will begin with the collaboration of four medical facilities.

The government will publish data on the disease and mortality rates separately for Budapest and other parts of the country, the minister further noted.

The government still requests that senior citizens leave their homes only when absolutely necessary and go shopping during their provided time slot from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Furthermore, everyone must cover their mouth and nose in enclosed spaces and keep a distance of 1.5 meters from others.

Schools will not reopen until the end of May, with digital education continuing for now. Free parking in the country remains in place. Limits on events remain in effect as well, the minister continued, meaning no events with more than 500 people can be held until August 15. In rural areas, movement restrictions have been lifted.

Gulyás also noted that starting on May 4, the terraces of restaurants, cafes and hotels will be open and shops will be open without any time restriction. Beaches and open-air museums can also open, and businesses in the service sector will be able to open back up without restrictions. Weddings, funerals and Masses can also be held from May 4 onwards by maintaining the appropriate social distancing. Additionally, private healthcare services will be able to start back up, while the public healthcare system will relaunch gradually in four steps.

The country is ready for matriculation exams, Gulyás added, saying that 97 percent of students now want to graduate. There will only be written exams this year, with a maximum of ten students in one room and following all rules of hygiene and social distancing.

Because of the epidemic, the government has decided to simplify various administrative tasks to reduce the need for social contact. Today, there are some 3,000-4,000 permitting procedures, with close to 30,000 officers involved in issuing permits. Now, after submitting a permit application, as long as the authority does not ban your activity, you can receive a permit just nine days after submission.

The government will do everything in its power during the second half of the year to restart the economy via additional investments, Gulyás emphasized. On this front, Minister Mihály Varga will submit the figures for the 2020-2021 budget on May 19.

The minister also spoke about restarting domestic tourism. The government will cover a tourist tax on hotel stays, normally paid by tourists, and will also increase the amount companies can put on employee SZÉP cards (for hotel and restaurant expenses), thus helping to relaunch domestic tourism and local economies throughout the country.

On the topic of Hungary’s emergency measures, Gulyás noted, “The European Commission has commented on the measures of each member state, and the Hungarian legislation is in line with the EU treaties.” That is why the behavior on the part of the Hungarian left was unfounded, and it is time for the Hungarian left to rethink its behavior in the interests of national unity. There were also those in the European People’s Party who made unsubstantiated statements, so an apology from Donald Tusk, EPP president, would also be expected, the minister stated.