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May 17, 2020 - Zoltán Kovács

Operational Group: Budapest can reopen gradually and on a strict schedule

At today’s Coronavirus Operational Group press conference, officials discussed the economic situation and the reopening of Budapest as well as the affects of the virus on those suffering from various underlying conditions.

Kristóf Gál, spokesperson for the Hungarian National Police Headquarters (ORFK), reported the latest COVID-19 data, while Tamás Schanda, deputy minister and parliamentary state secretary at the Ministry of Innovation and Technology, said that life can start again gradually and on a strict schedule.

“However, it does not mean that we can return to the previous state, as we are facing a long-unseen crisis in the economy, which does not affect different sectors equally,” he added.

“The economic data for April is expected to be depressing, but we must not be disappointed; the last ten years have proven that the Hungarian people want and can work, they want to make a living,” the deputy minister said. Hungary has gotten over the hurdles better than other countries; the decline in industrial performance at the EU level is 12 percent, but in our country, it is only 10 percent.

The government’s job now is to provide people with as much help as possible to enable them to acquire new knowledge to succeed in the job market, the minister continued. Along these lines, Schanda encouraged everyone to take advantage of the IT online foundation course, an eight-week free training that’s open to applicants until May 22. In just one week, nearly 37,000 people have registered. Classes are available according to individual needs, and he further recommended the course, as it is also a prerequisite for a structural-change adult training starting in August. For those participating in these new courses, the government will provide a HUF 1.2 million interest-free Student Loan Plus to use as they deem necessary. 

The deputy minister pointed out that they have already issued some 24,000 degrees after the introduction of the language exam exemption. The process is ongoing, and everyone affected will receive their diploma. Schanda stressed that more than 2,000 people have applied for online language exams, which started this month.

Colonel Tibor Lakatos, the head of the Operational Group, reported that traffic is unobstructed at all border crossings, both exiting and entering. To date, there have been a total of 452,859 official inspections carried out to see if those in official home quarantine are complying with the rules. In the last 24 hours, authorities have ordered 990 home quarantines, bringing the number of official home quarantines to 10,470. Additionally, 745 of these have voluntarily registered to use the official electronic monitoring system, with 546 active users, as quarantine has already expired in 218 cases. The online system has thus far carried out 4,543 remote checks, and police only had to take action in 81 cases due to fraud.

Lakatos also summed up yesterday's government decision, highlighting the ban will be lifted in Budapest from midnight tonight. Everyone is obliged to keep a social distance of 1.5 meters from each other. People may visit outdoor playgrounds, but adults must wear a mask. Those over 65 can only visit grocery stores, pharmacies and drugstores between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. With regard to markets, district mayors may make different provisions, but security regulations will continue to apply. Starting Monday, guests may visit the terraces of restaurants and cafes but cannot receive services inside. There will be no charge for the use of terraces until September 1. Outdoor beaches can also open.

Starting on June 15, people can hold weddings and family events with a maximum of 200 participants. Universities in the capital can open, but social distancing must be maintained and dormitories cannot open. “From now on, strict and consistent adherence to protection measures will act as a guarantee to prevent the spread of the virus,” Colonel Lakatos said.

János Szlávik, the head of the National Institute of Hematology and Infectious Disease at South Pest Central Hospital, stressed that people over the age of 65 are at increased risk, while mortality in children is extremely rare. Additionally, high blood pressure alone is not a risk factor if treated properly, and one of the most common antihypertensive drugs does not aggravate the coronavirus infection, Szlávik pointed out.

Lung patients are, however, at greater risk, the doctor continued. In Hungary, people with the relatively common COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) do not tolerate coronavirus well due to the effects of smoking. Asthmatics also need to take care of themselves, although those who continuously receive steroids are not as at risk.

For those suffering from kidney disease, patients receiving kidney replacement therapy are at high risk because new knowledge suggests that the virus not only attacks the lungs but can also cause disease in the kidneys, heart, brain and liver, causing blood-clotting disorders. The virus seems to be able to attack the entire body.

Szlávik also noted that insulin-treated diabetics are at much higher risk than those treated with pills. Furthermore, cancer patients receiving immunosuppressive therapy and people with inflammatory bowel disease are also more likely to get sick. Extremely obese people find it mechanically very difficult to deal with artificial respiration, so they should stay at home. János Szlávik additionally spoke about the use of HIV drugs against the coronavirus.