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Mar 27, 2020 - Zoltán Kovács

PM Orbán: We are at war and the country is operating on a military plan

Speaking in his regular morning radio address on public radio, Prime Minister Orbán talked about the latest decision of the Coronavirus Operational Group. There is still no curfew in effect, but the government will impose restrictions on movement for the entire territory of Hungary between March 28 and April 11.

PM Orbán announced new restrictions on movement during his regular morning address on Kossuth Radio’s Good Morning, Hungary. According to the regulation, people in Hungary can only leave home for work or for other clearly justifiable reasons from March 28 to April 11. This is something that people should be able to live with, he added. 

The new measure was created based on international examples of similar laws. The prime minister said that the government had basically started with the Bavarian version, although the resulting Hungarian regulation is stricter. The restriction makes an effort to separate the elderly from the young as well. One section of the decree states that only people over the age of 65 may visit grocery stores and pharmacies between 9 a.m. and noon.

PM Orbán expects the regulation to reduce the amount of contact between people and, consequently, slow the spread of the virus.

The prime minister also talked about the government’s efforts to constantly collect information on how people's lives have been affected since the onset of the epidemic. Questionnaires show that the measures taken so far have been effective. For example, surveys reported 500,000 instances of contact with others prior to the outbreak, whereas this figure dropped to 50,000 in the latest survey. However, a further reduction in this number is now needed.

Per the new measure, people can go outside, but cannot be in a group, Orbán added. The police will also help enforce compliance with the rule and encourage cooperation but can impose fines only as a last resort. The prime minister emphasized that a penalty must exist because there is no rule that works without a penalty. 

PM Orbán also talked about the unity and intelligence in Hungarian society. “I’ve learned that a big epidemic can only be handled with intelligence. This is not the same as education. Hungarians have always had an innate intelligence. Behind our discipline lies the intelligence of a serious people,” he added.

The situation is different in politics, he explained. Politics is a power game and the opposition cannot be blamed for wanting to come to power. However, the prime minister emphasized that “it is not politics that is needed now but cooperation. The better we get along together, the more lives we can save,” he added.

PM Orbán mentioned that the vote on the coronavirus law will take place next week so that decisions can be made quickly and progress made in the fight against this epidemic. “Saving life depends on quick decisions. We do not want to make decisions that the government has no right to make; we just want certain decisions to be made quickly,” the prime minister added.

The PM also said that now is not the time for the European Union to deal with theoretical issues. If they cannot help, fine; but they must not hinder a country's defense on its own soil.

The government still wants a strong Europe, but the EU has its weaknesses. In terms of coronavirus aid, for example, Hungary has received support from China and the Turkish Council. It would be good to find out where the hundreds of epidemiologists in the EU were in January and February.

PM Orbán also pointed out that regulations always affect the economy, but the focus right now is on saving human lives. Still, the government is already working on programs to help the economy recover, and additions to the economic action plan will be presented in the first and second half of April. At this moment, Orbán said, it is important to deal with the virus because it is here and spreading.

That’s why the emphasis now must be on slowing its spread. Of those infected, 80 percent do not become ill; they are just carriers. But the other 20 percent – up to 2 million people – might need hospital care. If the infection does not slow down, this 20 percent would need to be hospitalized at the same time. When the virus finally peaks, the burden on the Hungarian healthcare system could be ten times greater than at present – in terms of material, equipment, human labor, everything.

Unfortunately, some healthcare professionals will have to leave the current line of defense because they are expected to get sick. “The country is operating under a military plan of action. If this works well in the next two weeks, then healthcare should remain operational when the virus peaks,” he added.

Additionally, “hospital commanders” will be appointed by the government to all hospitals starting on Monday, PM Orbán announced. They will be responsible for overseeing compliance with epidemiological regulations as well as for managing personnel and inventory. However, doctors will still be in charge of all decisions pertaining to purely medical matters.