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Mar 09, 2020

Press statement by Prime Minister Orbán Viktor after a meeting of the Operational Group set up in response to the international outbreak of COVID-19

5 March 2020, Budapest

Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,

If you have any questions after my statement, I will gladly answer them. The Operational Group has held its meeting – which from now on I must describe as being regular, because we will have such a meeting every day at noon. We have reviewed the situation, and the coronavirus numbers and data for Hungary – as of last night – are the following: there are two confirmed cases; 24 people are in quarantine, so they are in isolation; and 230 tests are in progress – this is the number of samples being tested in an accredited laboratory. Across the world as of last night, we know of 3,268 deaths due to the virus. In the world today – or rather last night – we know of 95,748 people who have been infected, 53,418 of whom have recovered; so there are people in the world who have recovered from this infection. The Operational Group will provide daily figures for Hungary, and the data we have on the situation around the world. That is how we stand today. This means that at the moment Hungarian preventive measures are focused on a discrete number of cases. There are three categories: discrete numbers of individual infections, as is the case in Hungary now, when a cluster of infections has not yet formed; there is group infection, when a cluster forms; and the worst case is the stage of mass transmission. Our goal now is to prevent individual cases from becoming a group infection or developing clusters that then lead to a group infection. The Operational Group knows its limits, because in Hungary – just as worldwide – the essential nature of the situation is that people’s sense of security has been weakened. Those who have experienced enough illness in their lives, or who have several children who have experienced illness, are well aware that a person’s sense of security can only be restored if he or she knows that there’s a cure for the disease, that there is a vaccine that can serve to stop the disease in its tracks. And we all know that in the world at the moment we don’t yet possess such a vaccine; we hope to have one as soon as possible, but nothing like that is available yet. We know that when a vaccine is discovered and made available to everyone then there will be relative calm, and people’s sense of security will swing back up.

With your permission I’d like to say a few general thoughts about the meeting of the Operational Group. Today the Group again confirmed that two dangers are inherent in the coronavirus: one to public health, and the other economic in nature. This is a virus that can clearly cause harm to both human life and the economy at the same time. This Group, the members of which – or the key members of which – I will introduce to you in a moment, is dedicated to the protection of human lives; so it does not deal with economic issues. This is the correct order of priorities: first of all we need to deal with issues centring on human life; that is the first thing, and then the financial professionals will concern themselves with measuring the economic impact, which is work for a later phase. Effective prevention requires effort on the part of everyone. So I would like to ask everyone observing us not to consider this preventive work solely as an authority or government task, because effective preventive demands effort from everyone. We are asking the authorities for painstaking work, attention and perseverance, and people working for the authorities can look forward to some quite difficult weeks – which may turn out to be months. The situation in Hungary today is that almost everyone trusts doctors and nurses. In general, in Hungary the reputation of public health professionals is high, and I very much hope that their work will strengthen this reputation. This situation requires the Government to provide the necessary resources for preventive measures. There will be no shortcoming on that front, and I can promise the professionals and the public that there will be no financial barrier or obstacle to the battle against the virus in Hungary. I would like to ask the political parties for restraint, as people’s protection is not a political issue, and certainly not a party political issue. And most importantly, I would like to ask people for their cooperation. I ask the citizens of Hungary to be cooperative and understanding if they find that combating the virus comes with inconveniences – that it involves inconvenience. Now the rules we need to put into effect are dictated by common sense. Before the virus appeared in Hungary, during the prevention phase we had already taken a number of necessary measures; and if necessary we will be taking more and more decisions every day as a result of the Operational Group’s discussions. I would like to ask everyone to avoid two impending dangers: one is to underestimate the potential problems caused by the virus and the infection; and the other is to generate panic. So through you I appeal to the citizens of Hungary not to underestimate the situation, but also not to spread panic.

Please allow me to introduce you to the closest associates working in this Operational Group, so that you can clearly understand who is responsible for what. The Operational Group is led by Deputy Prime Minister Sándor Pintér. In referring to him by this title I’m deliberately making a point: he is not acting as Minister of the Interior, but as Deputy Prime Minister; he is the second person in the Government, and is able to mobilise all government resources for the operation of the Group. Professor Miklós Kásler, the Government’s minister for public health, is in charge of strategy on public health protection. He will make himself available to you on a daily basis. Here, after we have finished, he will be glad to stay behind and answer your questions; but every day, after the Operational Group meeting, he and his staff will also be at the disposal of journalists and the Hungarian public sphere. We have Cecília Müller, the National Chief Medical Officer, who heads the National Centre for Public Health and manages specialist epidemiological preventive activities. Her work is particularly important in that the samples, the samples being taken, are analysed in a laboratory which she directs. Here with us is Dr. Miklós Gondos, Director General of the Centre for State Healthcare Provision, whose job is to ensure that protective equipment is available on time and in sufficient quantities. Gábor Csató, Director General of the National Ambulance Service, is here with us. Naturally, should we detect cases of infection, his duty is to have patients transported to hospital under the supervision of members of the ambulance service in vehicles specifically equipped for the purpose.We also have Director General István Vályi-Nagy, head of South Pest Central Hospital, which at the moment is our most important healthcare institution. His task is to treat the patients and to operate the quarantine facilities at that hospital. Also with use is Lieutenant General Dr. János Balogh, who as the National Chief of Police has the task of ensuring – using the police force if needed – the necessary working conditions for healthcare and public healthcare workers. And here is Secretary of State István György, whose job is to apply the public administration tools that we are able to use in our prevention strategy. We will use every means to prevent mass transmission; I really hope that doesn’t occur, but if it were to happen, regional protection committees would have to be established everywhere, and Mr. György would be responsible for their leadership and coordination. I could also say that as long as he is not seen, the first phase of prevention can be said to have been successful.

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

What I would like to add is that we have reviewed the prevention measures introduced so far in neighbouring countries, and indeed in the wider European context. We focused on the question of what to do about upcoming public events, and we decided that for the time being we should leave it to each event organiser to decide whether or not to hold their event. Of course, if the situation worsens, then as part of our programme of daily meetings we can take decisions on prohibiting the staging of events; but this was not needed today. The country is coming up to a large event that deserves special attention, as it could affect tens of thousands of people: the central celebration on 15 March. As we see it, monitoring the situation and listening to daily reports, we will decide what to do on this no later than next Tuesday. If the situation in Europe worsens, then on Tuesday we will cancel the central ceremony. If we don’t see this as necessary then we won’t cancel it, but we will make the relevant decision by Tuesday at the latest. If we can make the decision sooner we will do so sooner; but unless there is an extraordinary development, you can expect a decision on it after the Operational Group’s meeting on Tuesday.

Thank you very much.