Thank you for the floor, Mr. Speaker.
Honourable Fellow Members of Parliament,
I asked to speak because at the end of last week the Government did something unprecedented in the history of Hungarian democracy since 1990: it decided to declare a “state of danger” [state of emergency due to natural phenomena]. The reason for this is that throughout the world, and in Hungary, we are facing an extraordinary situation. We are confronted by an invisible, unknown enemy. The Chinese coronavirus has spread throughout the world, and we must consider the situation today to be a pandemic. Dealing with a hitherto unknown virus is a challenge for all humanity. It is also important to recognise that this epidemic is not only the result of an unknown virus, but that the Chinese coronavirus disease is spreading much faster than previous epidemics. Since there is no antidote or vaccine, it has been impossible to stop it anywhere. Thirty-seven giant global pharmaceutical companies are working on developing the necessary vaccine – so far without success. Furthermore, if such a vaccine is developed, it will take many months before it can be distributed for use. This research, which is taking place all over the world, is being monitored by a task force of Hungarian virologists, who will join in these efforts wherever they can.
Our current knowledge is that the virus entered Hungary from Iran, Italy and Israel. This means that the epidemic, which broke out in China, on the other side of the globe, appeared in Europe – and thus in Hungary – within a few weeks. Not only is there no vaccine against the coronavirus epidemic; we do not have a global solution either. Therefore every country is developing its own defence strategy. For us this situation is not an unfamiliar one. This was the case in earlier crises – whether the economic crisis, flooding or the immigration crisis. On those occasions we also had to develop our own national crisis management action plans. And now this will remain the case until a vaccine is discovered. Naturally, during our defence efforts we are consulting with everyone – above all with our neighbours; and we are in direct contact with every country in the European Union. But we Hungarians must make responsible decisions for ourselves: we cannot expect others to make decisions for us; and neither can we shift that responsibility onto others. Cooperation with Austria is especially important, because Austria also neighbours Italy. Therefore we are making every effort to incorporate measures adopted in Austria into Hungarian practice as rapidly as possible. I will say a few words about this in a minute.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have been in difficult situations many times – several of them in the past ten years. We have learnt that however grave the danger, our best chance of conquering it is by acting together. This is what we must do now. In this situation I ask everyone to follow the path of joint action and national unity. We need the broadest possible national cooperation. What can we expect? We know that dealing with the coronavirus epidemic will be a long and difficult process, demanding that everyone adapts to changed circumstances. Life over the next few months will not be the same: it will be different from what we are used to. In the coming months the most important work will continue to be that done by healthcare workers and law enforcement officers. Therefore I would like to thank those working in health care and law enforcement for their hard work in recent times. So far they have carried the heaviest burden, heavier than anyone else, and this will continue to be true in the long weeks – or even months – ahead. So I ask everyone – not just you, but the general public – to help in their work, to lighten their load, and to support them. I would also like to thank the Hungarian people in general, because I think they have responded to this extraordinary situation with appropriate discipline. I thank them for accepting the unusual restrictions; there will be quite a few more. I thank them for observing the rules, and I also thank them for accepting the authorities’ advice, the amount of which will increase. Our most important reserves of strength are unity and discipline. Let us use them, and turn them to our advantage.
Our current knowledge suggests that the spread of the coronavirus epidemic can be divided into three stages: there are individual cases; these are followed by group incidences; and finally there are mass infections. So far Hungary has been in the first stage, but over the next few days we will proceed to the stage of group incidences. As we see it, until there is a vaccine, in every country of the world – including Hungary – our only chance is to reduce the spread of the virus. Today all we can commit to is to reduce the speed at which the virus spreads. Therefore we must reduce the number of our social interactions – or, as experts advise us, our direct personal contacts. I will now briefly outline the decisions we have adopted so far in the interest of this goal. These are all measures we have taken so far. We have instituted a special legal order and declared a “state of danger” across the whole country. We have imposed a ban on people entering from Italy, China, South Korea and Israel, with the exception of Hungarian citizens. Hungarian nationals coming from these countries may enter Hungary, as this is their home; but they are required to immediately enter official quarantine. The official order states that they are not allowed to leave their homes for two weeks. Making a false statement carries sanctions, as does violation of the obligation stated in the quarantine decision. We have banned indoor events attended by more than 100 people and outdoor events attended by more than 500 people. Expired documents for official purposes need not be renewed while the state of danger is in effect. A ban on entering universities in Hungary has come into effect, and from now on university education must be in the form of distance learning. We have prohibited school trips abroad, and we have postponed students’ two-week summer language courses by one year – and hopefully only by one year. Public education has been converted in its entirety to distance learning. We have decided on the erection of a shipping container hospital for disease control, the construction work on which began this morning – in the early hours of this morning.
After this, Ladies and Gentlemen, I’d like to inform you that we adopted further decisions after this morning’s meeting of the Operational Group. These decisions are as follows. We are closing Hungary’s borders in relation to the movement of people. The relevant international consultations are already under way. This means that in the future only Hungarian nationals will be allowed to enter the territory of Hungary. From midnight tonight we are banning events in general. Sporting events may only be held behind closed gates, if the organisers so decide; but it would be best if they are not held at all. Entertainment venues and cinemas will be closed, and entry to cultural institutions will not be permitted. Restaurants, cafes and shops will only be allowed to remain open until 3.00 p.m. The only exceptions to this will be grocery stores and pharmacies. We recommend the postponement of all social gatherings other than family events. Our message to Hungary’s senior citizens – our parents and grandparents – is that they should be extremely cautious, as they are especially at risk from the epidemic. For them this virus is particularly dangerous. As I see it, the Government cannot prohibit people over the age 70 leaving their homes; but even if we or I cannot prohibit it, I think that at any rate I can ask them not to leave their homes. This if not because they might infect others, but because they might fall ill, and they are in danger. Today we are obliging local governments to organise care services for older people staying at home, and to take care of them. I ask local governments to divert their energy primarily towards helping the elderly.
These are the measures. Now I would also like to say a few words about the economic consequences. The coronavirus epidemic is primarily a threat to human life, but clearly the global epidemic already also has grave economic consequences. The entire economy – I’m talking about the Hungarian economy now – will be in distress, but not all at once, not all at the same time. There are sectors in the economy – such as tourism, catering and services – where trouble has already arrived. It is now Minister Andrea Mager’s responsibility to consult with representatives from the sectors in distress, the sectors already in distress, and to gather their proposals and requests, so that in the next few days we can enact rapid measures to help them. As the primary danger is to Hungarians’ jobs, in the coming weeks we will concentrate on protecting jobs. Hungary is facing a very serious wave of unemployment, and I ask every employer and every worker to make personal efforts to preserve their jobs. The economic consequences of the coronavirus epidemic will also override fiscal and economic plans: the Government’s fiscal and economic plans. Budgets at every level will have to be redesigned. The coordination of this work will be the task of Minister Mihály Varga. In the next few days we will provide guidelines for redesigning the budgets of institutions and local governments, while the development of measures to assist the Hungarian economy is in progress. I would also like to inform you that I have consulted with the Governor of the National Bank of Hungary, as – like other European countries – Hungary will need to manage the crisis with monetary as well as fiscal measures. This is where we are now, on 16 March.
Thank you for your attention.