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May 27, 2020 - Zoltán Kovács

Mainstream media reports vs. reality: Coronavirus Protection Act

Hungary’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has attracted a curious amount of media attention over the last couple months. The coverage has been dominated by biased, critical voices that have had a loose relationship with the facts. It’s time to set the record straight and see where those reports went wrong. Let’s talk about the Coronavirus Protection Act.

On March 11, one week after Hungary reported its first, confirmed case of coronavirus, the government ordered a state of emergency (“state of danger” in the Hungarian constitution). On March 30, Hungary’s National Assembly – acting upon the government’s initiative – passed the so-called Coronavirus Protection Act, which gave the government, similar to measures in other countries, sweeping powers to protect the lives of our people and the economy.

Of course, it didn’t take long for left-liberal, mainstream media outlets to sound the alarm over an “erosion of [Hungarian] democracy,” (The Independent) and claim that PM Viktor Orbán would supposedly “rule by decree, alone and unchallenged” (The Guardian). Some even drew allusions to Hitler (former Finnish ambassador and others) and claimed that PM Orbán had suspended the Hungarian Parliament, while others proclaimed he was keeping “Hungarians hostage” as he let them “suffer and die” (Die Zeit). “The drift towards authoritarianism has strengthened in Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has assumed full powers indefinitely,” according to another source.

However, much of this criticism is badly misinformed and struggles with basic facts. For starters, contrary to what these biased sources would have you believe, the Hungarian government never received “unlimited powers.” The special powers the government did receive could be exercised only to prevent, treat, eradicate and remedy the harmful effects of the coronavirus. Similarly, the extraordinary measures were never intended to last “indefinitely;” they were meant to expire with the threat or be lifted by the National Assembly.

And this is exactly what happened in the Hungarian National Assembly today.

The government of Hungary introduced a bill in the Parliament on Tuesday, proposing to hand back the extraordinary powers that it acquired under the state of emergency put into effect to fight the coronavirus pandemic. With this move, Prime Minister Orbán did exactly what he said he would do all along. It puts Hungary among the first EU countries to lift the state of emergency.

Today we know that while it definitely did not push Hungary into “authoritarian disarray,” the Coronavirus Protection Act served the country well. It enabled the government to take swift action, closing borders, enacting movement restrictions, slowing the spread of the disease, and equipping our national health care system and health care providers with the equipment necessary to treat all those who require care. Thanks to the legislative package, with 39.04 confirmed cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 inhabitants, Hungary ranks among the top performers in Europe in terms of managing the pandemic.

“Compared to other countries,” said Prime Minister Orbán in a recent interview, “we were able to make decisions one or two weeks earlier.” Sadly, the disease has claimed the lives of many people in Hungary but because of the government’s ability to act decisively, the PM said, “we can say that the defense has saved the lives of thousands of elderly people.”

Critics claimed that the law signaled an end to democracy in Hungary – again. They distorted the facts and reported falsely on what the law said to back their sensational claims. Coronavirus Protection Act has been a critical factor in Hungary’s effective response to COVID-19.

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