Press statement by Viktor Orbán following a meeting of the Operational Group
23 March 2020, Budapest
Thank you. Good morning. Allow me to also welcome you all.
This morning there was a meeting of the Operational Group. We have reviewed the situation and made decisions, and I will talk about that now. Twelve days ago we made the extraordinary announcement of a special legal order. We needed to do this because scientists seeking a vaccine for the coronavirus say that they haven’t yet discovered one, and that even when they do, it will take many weeks – indeed months – before it becomes available to all of us. Most predict that this will happen next year. The question was whether we should wait or take action; and we decided that instead of waiting, we would commit ourselves to the fight. We immediately saw that we wouldn’t be able to organise Hungary’s collective self-defence – and that even acting together we wouldn’t be able to ward off this attack – if we followed the usual way of things, pursuing our normal lifestyle, maintaining our lives’ customary organising principles, within the boundaries of the normal rules of law.This is why we sought authorisation and declared a “state of danger”. A state of danger means that the Government has received both the authorisation and the means to organise Hungary’s self-defence, with the prospect of success. This is what I shall tell you about, this is what I shall report on.
We’ve organised our defences on four fronts. We must hold the line and strengthen our defence in four theatres of operations simultaneously: the military, the police, the healthcare system and the economy. We also knew that there are three stages to the spread of the virus; and the phasing of our defence, the tasks, decisions and measures, all need to be adjusted to these. The first stage was – and unfortunately this is now over – the stage of isolated, individual infections. From this we have progressed to the stage of localised community transmission, and as I see it we are approaching the phase of mass infection at an ever faster rate. As of six o’clock this morning, when the Operational Group held its meeting, the situation was as follows: in Hungary there have been 167 confirmed cases. Let me repeat, confirmed cases. This means that we’re talking about cases of viral infection confirmed on the basis of controlled tests carried out under laboratory conditions.Naturally it’s important for us to know how many people have the virus in their bodies, because that number is obviously higher than the number of those with the disease as confirmed under laboratory conditions. But we can only estimate the number of actual infections. I’ve asked mathematicians, virologists and also Semmelweis University to prepare estimates, but so far these are too divergent and not reliable enough to tell you about now. All I can say is that the true number of those infected is clearly much higher than the 167 confirmed cases. If we look at these 167 cases, we see that 108 of the 167 are carriers, so-called “healthy carriers”, who are carrying this virus in their systems but don’t show any symptoms, and so aren’t ill:they’ve been infected, they’re carrying the virus, but they themselves aren’t ill – and hopefully most of them won’t be. Of the 167, 27 have symptoms – so in everyday language they’re ill. They will very probably recover from this disease. And among the infected there are 9 people who are seriously ill. They are so ill that they need intensive care in hospital, and we must root for their recovery. They could recover, but at this point they’re in grave danger. We also have 7 deaths. We feel for their families, and we are praying for them. We need to recognise that of these seven people, five were suffering from cardiovascular diseases or diabetes, one was a cancer patient, while another was suffering from disease of the colon. The average age of those who have died was 69. From this you can more or less gauge the groups that are truly at risk.
Now I’d like to tell you about the resources and supplies Hungary has on the healthcare front of defence operations. From today’s stocktaking I learnt that there are 1.5 million medical face masks at our disposal. We’ve been making 25,000 every day, and this week that manufacturing capacity will rise to 80,000. We have 129,000 special face masks, 20 million pairs of medical gloves and 170,000 protective gowns. And there are 2,560 ventilators at our disposal – items which will play a crucial role at a later stage. I’d also like to tell you that I’ve sent scouts and emissaries to every part of the world, to all points of the compass, and business people and diplomats are hard at work. The picture unfolding to me is that effectively there’s a shortage of everything in the West, but supplies and assistance are available in the East. We have reserved enormous amounts, and consignments are arriving on a continuous basis. When I update you, however, I only talk about the number of items which are actually available and have arrived in Hungary. The rest is as uncertain as the weather. But I hope that ever more consignments will arrive in Hungary. We are expecting more than ten planeloads of supplies. As for hospital capacity, in Hungary we have 66,906 hospital beds, and as a last resort we can also install 252 military hospital beds.
As for our healthcare capacity, I can tell the public the following. In Hungary we have 19,431 doctors under the age of 65, 4,312 residents and 900 final-year medical students who can be called up. This gives a total of 24,643 people who can be deployed on medical service. We have other healthcare professionals who have received training for some form of healthcare work, and counting those under the age of 65 there are 105,000 of them: we have 105,000 other qualified healthcare professionals. One needs to bear in mind that there are various records, from the databases of the Hungarian Medical Chamber, the State Treasury and the National Centre for Public Health. We have now collated these to arrive at the figures I’ve just told you, based on which we have also prepared a battle plan. This is important, because we – the Operational Group, too – can make decisions based on a review of the available supplies, the number of healthcare workers ready to be mobilised, and the anticipated number of patients.Today we’ve made a few such healthcare decisions, and these are the following. From tomorrow morning, all doctors working in intensive care units will receive special face masks. All nurses working in intensive care units will also receive special face masks. Other hospital doctors and nurses working in non-intensive care units will receive surgical masks. Patients taken to hospital who are suspected as having been infected with the coronavirus will also receive surgical masks. I approved this stock management decision by the Operational Group, and its implementation has begun. I asked the Operational Group to manage supplies in a disciplined and rational manner, because this defence period will be a long one, and we will need supplies for many weeks and months. I would like to take this opportunity to thank healthcare workers for their work. In recent weeks they have earned our admiration. Thank you, we are grateful to you! I ask them to observe later instructions on working arrangements and deployment so that in general we can hold our line of defence in health care. This is where we stand on the healthcare front.
As regards the theatre of defence operations represented by the police, you’ve heard that the police closed our borders to the movement of people. The only people allowed to enter the country are Hungarians and those who have received special permission. Goods traffic continues to be permitted. At our borders we are stopping all non-Hungarian nationals trying to return to their home countries through Hungary. We have created special rules for them: between specified times they are allowed to transit Hungary under supervision along designated humanitarian corridors. Even in such difficult circumstances humanity remains undiminished; we want our neighbours to be our friends, and so they can count on us now, too. We’ve asked the Romanians for guarantees, and people heading south towards Romania are being allowed to cross the Austrian-Hungarian border at the same rate as Romanians are letting people into their country from Hungary. This is an “airlock” arrangement to prevent foreigners accumulating in Hungary.So far our police officers have been successfully operating this airlock arrangement, with traffic on the corridor generally only allowed at night. Day by day our police officers’ tasks are increasing, as the worsening situation demands that they take control of an increasing number of areas. Therefore in order to be able to maintain public order they must continuously increase their capabilities. I would now like to say a few words about these capabilities, the capabilities at the disposal of you and Hungary in general. We have 70,275 uniformed officers and non-commissioned officers under the age of 65 available for service. We also have 46,573 volunteers – such as neighbourhood watch personnel and others – who, in a worst-case scenario, will be able to carry out law enforcement duties.They’re not armed, but they’re experienced and have a certain degree of discipline and organisation, meaning that they can be deployed. We can count on a total of 139,684 people for law enforcement responsibilities, if we include our military capabilities. So in total, we can deploy 139,684 people for law enforcement. They will also have to supervise quarantine compliance, and if more stringent curfew regulations are introduced, it will be their duty to enforce those.
As regards the military front, they are now taking a more active part in border control. They are preparing for cooperation with the police in the event of my needing to order street patrols. And they’re also prepared for the eventuality of vital companies in Hungary needing assistance. I’ve assigned operational military control units to all such companies, and they can offer help if necessary. The situation in terms of our military resources is as follows: 23,950 career soldiers; 9,381 reservists; and 10,649 officers who were discharged in the past five years, meaning that they have capabilities which can be deployed. This represents a military force with a combined total of 43,980. Once again, if I add this number to our police capabilities, we have 139,684 people at our disposal. This is what we must manage with. They will be able to maintain public order in Hungary, and also the peace which is necessary in order to stave off the infection.
After this I would also like to say a few words about defence efforts in the economy. Last Wednesday I announced the first economy protection action plan. Today we are supplementing this with further decisions. We’ve made six further decisions. First of all, 81,480 small businesses will be joining taxi drivers in exemption – until 30 June – from payment of the flat-rate Small Business Tax [KATA]. this category includes hairdressers, beauticians, painters and decorators, glaziers, electricians, certain healthcare service providers, performing artists, plumbers, gas and heating technicians, carpenters, those working in outpatient care, floor and wall tilers, people working in fitness and other sporting activities, and those catering for the needs of the elderly and people living with disabilities. The details and full list will be published in a decree to be released tonight.Secondly, we are authorising the deferment of payment obligations on unpaid Small Business Tax incurred before 1 March; taxpayers in arrears with such payments will be required to pay them in the quarter following the end of the state of danger. Thirdly, due to their reduced advertising revenues, Hungarian media providers will be granted exemptions similar to those in tourism and catering. Fourthly, in consultation with the Chamber of Bailiffs, we are declaring a moratorium on evictions and confiscations. Fifthly, we are also suspending tax-related distraint actions; existing tax debts will only need to be paid after the end of the state of danger. And sixthly and finally, because our political approach sees economy protection as family protection also, we will extend the various maternity entitlements expiring during the state of danger, and will maintain mothers in their present status for the duration of the state of danger.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The most important consideration now is protection of Hungarians’ jobs, and these measures also serve that goal. We must help those who lose their jobs to find new ones as soon as possible. This will be a formidable task, but it is one that we have already achieved once, after 2010 – when, as you may remember, we inherited a level of employment in the hundreds of thousands. We managed it then, and we shall also recover now.
Finally, I can tell you in summary that the period ahead will be difficult – so difficult that it will demand personal effort from everyone. We must make these efforts because now we can save people’s lives. And the higher the number of people taking part in this cooperation, the higher the number of people’s lives we can save. We face a task that no one can complete on their own: everyone shares responsibility, and everyone must make their own contributions. The time has come for dissent and dispute to be replaced by joint action. This is what I ask from all of us, and this is what I will ask my fellow Members of Parliament this afternoon. Let us look after one another. I wish you well in your work.