Katalin Nagy: According to analyses, next weekend could be the turning point in the progress of the pandemic. This is so what mathematicians and epidemiologists have calculated. This has also been said by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, whom I welcome to the studio. What will this change be like, what will change?
Good morning to you, and a very good morning to the listeners. We’re in the same situation as the listeners: we’re paying heed to the scientists and epidemiologists. At such times it’s very important for politicians to maintain a clear understanding of their own role, and not to transform into amateur virologists or healthcare experts. Instead we should make it possible for our professors – as we have some outstanding minds – to have access to as much information as possible, to formulate as much advice as possible, and to communicate this to decision-makers. This is what is happening now. Yesterday there was a large conference, which was riveting. If this wasn’t a matter of life and death, I could even describe how exciting it was – but then again I think it’s better to spare ourselves such forms of excitement. But at any rate there is data, there are opinions and there are analyses which enable us to say with confidence that the first phase of the defence operation will come to an end next weekend. Therefore instead of the restrictions on freedom of movement, instead of the rules in place now, we will introduce new rules. In retrospect I can say that in the first phase of the defence operation we prepared Hungary for even the worst case scenario. And now we’re at the beginning of the second phase of the defence operation, in which – and I can’t stress this strongly enough – we can relaunch life in Hungary gradually, and according to a strict timetable. The condition for this is that during this relaunch period we can continue to protect the most vulnerable people: the elderly, the chronically ill and those living in cities. So we must devise special rules for those people. We have a few days left: we must have new rules by next weekend. These rules are now being developed at full speed.
It seems that no one is worrying any more about the provision of personal protective equipment, as over the past two or three weeks it’s been arriving every day – sometimes via an air bridge. Indeed we’ve also heard that hand sanitiser produced by MOL will not only be available in hospitals, but that at the weekend I’ll also be able to buy it at filling stations. And this really is good news, because it reassures people. There are always questions raised about the issue of hospital beds: about why so many beds are needed, and why so many are being freed up. And already there’s talk of certain groups gathering together people seeking to take legal action, because they think that they’ve been disadvantaged by being sent home from hospital after their beds were set aside for coronavirus patients.
Well, this is a very difficult area, which extends very far and very deep. Because the question is this: what do we see as our own responsibility? We can clearly see that in Hungary there are a variety of ways in which people think about this. What is the Government’s responsibility in such a situation? My opinion is that we must create a situation in which we do not have to give up on saving the life of a single patient. The listeners will have seen the pictures, the reports and statistics from other countries where they’ve simply had to give up on saving people’s lives because there weren’t enough beds, there weren’t enough doctors and nurses for those beds, there weren’t enough ventilators, and there wasn’t enough medicine to relieve the symptoms. And the list goes on. Now I think that if we don’t want to live as if we’re locked in bunkers for the rest of our lives, or until the completely unknown point in time at which a vaccine is discovered, but if we want to sooner or later emerge – because that’s what the resumption of life will require – from our dugouts, then there are two possibilities: there could be the successful resumption of life – and although it’s not something that we’ve done before, we can hope that it would go well; or there could be surprises. And if when life is relaunched the virus runs amok and we cannot keep it under control, then we would need to suddenly create a supply of thousands of beds and thousands of ventilators. That would be impossible. So I think that the responsible course of action is for us to develop in our hospitals the capacity – the beds, the doctors, the nurses, the equipment and the ventilators – which we will need in the worst possible case. So this is why we have mounted our defence operation. What was the aim of the first phase of this defence operation? We said that we wanted to gain time so that we could prepare the Hungarian healthcare system for unprecedented burdens. Previously there had simply never been the need for this, and we had no practice in it. This is why we needed to gain time, to slow the spread of the virus. This is why we needed to stay at home, so that while we’re at home we’re slowing the spread of the virus, and giving ourselves enough time: time to acquire the necessary equipment for deployment in our offensive; time to train doctors in the specialist fields of knowledge in which they didn’t have previous experience, and to enable medical residents to take on some of the tasks performed by fully qualified doctors; and time to build an air bridge with a number of countries around the world from where we’ve been able to acquire equipment, and then to install this in hospitals. So we needed to gain time. This is what’s happened, and this has been successful. We have managed to flatten the curve, as the scientists put it: the curve of the spread of the pandemic, of the virus. But we did all this so that healthcare institutions could prepare themselves. And they say that from tomorrow morning there will be no scenario – no matter how bad – that they’ll be unprepared for; there is no problem that they will be unable to counter. In other words, we will not give up on saving the life of a single Hungarian. This is the meaning of the phrase that not a single Hungarian is alone: this is true because we shall not give up on saving the life of a single patient. We shall fight for everyone.
Several things show that Hungary does indeed have the intellectual capital which in such a situation provides some reassurance that it’s working very rapidly and very effectively: the ventilator that Hungarian engineers constructed in the blink of an eye, relatively speaking; or the disease control hospital which not many think people thought could be built in two and a half weeks, but which was built in that time; or the research results which we hear about in the news, including one related to a cure involving antibodies; or the experimentation on medicines. I think that this is clearly a new experience, isn’t it?
Well I’ve also learnt a lot. Other people pay large amounts of money for one- or two-year courses in order to learn the crisis management skills which I personally – and several of my colleagues – have learnt for free over the course of the past six weeks. I’ve taken stock of this every day, and we’ve needed to create fifteen things, major projects, which weren’t needed earlier: the development of an emergency control system; a special border policing system; a special transport system; the identification and isolation of infected people; a special healthcare control system; emergency healthcare protocols; the identification and protection of at-risk groups in society; a new system for the provision of equipment and materials; the development of domestic industrial capacities; the utilisation of research capabilities; a special legal order needed to be constructed; the incorporation of armed institutions in this order; we needed to create an economy protection action plan; the central budget had to be restructured; and international relations linked to disease control needed to be developed. Such a curriculum would do credit to a university course. Well, the country has learnt all this. I’m not talking about the Government now, but about Hungary. I always say that ours is an intelligent country. Well, in six weeks people have gained an understanding of all this: individuals have learnt what they’ve needed to from this. And most people have been able to follow it, they’ve been receptive to the lessons arising from what we could call the curriculum of life, and they’ve restructured their lives accordingly. Of course innate intelligence is important, and education, training, the skills of our professors, and the experience and knowledge of doctors are all important. But the most important thing is for us not to throw in the towel. So we can use our knowledge, our intelligence must be operating, but always the precondition for everything is that we are not cowards. So if trouble strikes, if there’s a sudden challenge, something that we’ve not prepared for, then let’s not wail: let’s keep calm, settle down, look around us, assess the situation, and immediately take the necessary action. And we know what we must do. For this we need self-confidence. So the past ten years have not been in vain, because over the past ten years Hungarians have regained their self-respect and self-confidence. Today they believe that we can not only fight the virus and the difficulties that come with the transformation of healthcare, but that we can also fight against the economic consequences. It’s certain that not everyone thinks like this, but far more people believe that we’re capable of this than believed so ten years ago. I’m prepared to swear to that. This is why it’s very important what condition – what spiritual condition – a country is in when it’s confronted by a crisis, and how it meets these unexpected, dangerous challenges. All in all, the Hungarian defence operation has been successful so far – knock on wood. This is mostly due to the fact that Hungarians have not thrown in the towel when trouble has struck.
We’ll return to the subject of the economy later, but what do you see in the laboratory which is our neighbour? What will be the special rules that must be applied in the second phase? Will these restrictions need to be changed? You’ve mentioned cities and care homes.
From the professors’ reports we can be sure of three things. One is that in the long term we can count on this virus displaying a particular disease characteristic: those in the older age group will suffer more severe symptoms. The virus attacks everyone, but the serious symptoms and the main problem is primarily present among the older age group. The average age of those who have died is 77.8 – so almost 78 years. The second thing which the professors are sure of is that those who suffer from chronic illnesses are also at risk – regardless of their age. The third thing that the professors know is that in Hungary the virus is not spreading in a uniform way and to a uniform degree. It is most prevalent in the capital and in Pest County – which together account for more than 65 per cent of those who have been infected. So clearly different rules should be applied in cities than in our small settlements, say. We know these things. Oh yes, I’d also like to say that we’re not past the worst, but we’ve prepared ourselves for the possible occurrence of the worst-case scenario. Therefore we’re now experimenting – but this is a matter of life and death, and we must do this in real life – on finding ways in which we can live with a situation in which an enemy is here, a virus, and we have no vaccine. So as we cannot defeat it and cannot destroy it, we must in some way live with it. Living with it sounds bad, because one doesn’t want to live with one’s enemy: it must be destroyed, it must be eradicated, it must be crushed. You cannot incorporate into your life an enemy which is trying to kill you. But now we’re waiting for the delivery of a weapon known as the vaccine; and when we have that weapon we shall impale this virus. But until we have it, we must somehow intelligently organise our lives. This is the essence of the second phase. As I see it, we’re extremely fortunate in having Austria next door to us. I don’t want to disparage them with this analogy, but for us now they’re operating like a laboratory: we’re observing the timetable according to which they’re moving forward. They’re ahead of us by one or two weeks, and therefore we’re able to incorporate their experiences into the planning of our own measures: how they’re opening shops and businesses – and they’re already opening schools and universities. I’ve read that the same is true for museums, and then they’ll open restaurants, and then hotels are on their timetable. Perhaps they’re moving forward a little quicker than my survival instincts suggest is appropriate for Hungary. So I recommend following them at a disciplined and calm rate: let’s not move forward as quickly as the Austrians; but let’s not fall too far behind them either. So for the foreseeable future I think our main watchword should continue to be caution.
Will the rules for cities be decided by mayors, or will there be a government decision on this?
What’s the situation at the moment? At the moment the situation is that general rules are agreed on by the Operational Group, and I issue them in the form of decrees. These are the general rules. Due to Easter we tried a variation in which on individual weekends mayors received the power to impose stricter measures. On the whole this has been successful. Perhaps a talented writer will describe what kinds of measures were devised in various settlements, and then we’ll receive a picture of the breadth of the Hungarian imagination; but on the whole this approach has been successful. So now every weekend we’re issuing a decree which states that mayors can apply special rules for that weekend. But I think that after 4 May we must in essence apply general rules. I don’t want to shift the responsibility on to anyone else; and neither do I want to deprive a single mayor of the opportunity to create special rules in his or her settlement. The aim is to develop a healthy balance.
Earlier you mentioned that we’re also going to fight the economic consequences: the economic destruction caused by the virus. Very many owners of small businesses are pleased that the Government has expanded the wage support system. What does it mean to fight against the economic consequences?
I’m focusing on jobs. This pandemic is something which is attacking several areas of the economy at once. Things are certainly difficult for business owners, they’re difficult for investors, and it’s not easy for financial institutions either. But when all is said and done, the biggest problems are where real life is being lived: in the lives of workers. If there is no work there is nothing. If there is work there is everything. I think that this law remains true today. Therefore we must strive to save as many jobs as possible, and replace those jobs which cannot be saved – which the virus, or the disease, destroys – with new ones; or we should assist employers – let’s simply call them businesspeople – to create jobs. This is the central concept. If someone in Hungary loses their job, what happens to them is part of a well-developed system. We belong to the sphere of European states in which there is a system of unemployment benefits. Furthermore, in Hungary there is a system of public employment. So we know exactly what financial measures we can use to help people through difficult times in the first three months of unemployment. But, to be more accurate, they have been providing for themselves; because let’s not forget that they receive financial support through unemployment benefit – which is what we call jobseeker’s support in Hungarian law – because when they were in work they paid a certain amount in the form of contributions. And then we pay them unemployment benefit – which is available for three months – from the financial fund which has been thus created. We are now only just over forty days in, so this is going to last for a while. And I trust that by the time we’ve reached the end of this, this job protection and job creation support will result in the pace of our economy returning to something approaching its earlier level. So I’m looking forward to a fast recovery. On this I’m not among the most optimistic people, but neither am I a member of the pessimists’ camp. So I can say that we shall create as many jobs as the virus destroys. We have the instruments for this, and we also have the financial resources for this.
Yesterday you took part in an EU summit, with the participants meeting in a video conference. You managed to come to an agreement, even though not many had held out much hope for one. You agreed on a sum of 450 billion. How much is that in reality?
That’s a good question. Nobody knows. There is always a problem with European Union numbers. Let’s look, for example, at the continual opposition claim that we’re receiving extra funds from the European Union in order to combat the pandemic. This is simply not true. We haven’t received a single extra forint so far. What is true is that now we’re able to draw on funding – that is in any case due to Hungary – more easily and quickly for healthcare purposes. But this is our money. Although in the EU or in international statistics it’s sometimes calculated as if we’ve only just received this now, this is not the case. This is the amount of money due to Hungary within the normal financial management framework of the European Union. So it’s very difficult to say what is new money, what is a loan, what is a guarantee, and what is reallocation. It’s very difficult to see these matters clearly. Brussels is not noted for being a world-leading centre of transparency. So what did we agree on? There are those who think that we agreed on everything. The truth is that we have not agreed on the most important things. What we agreed on is not insignificant, because we agreed that we will amend the budget for the next seven years, the preparation of which is on the agenda. So we’re going to bring forward the majority of the money to be spent over the next seven years into the first and second years, so we’ll be able to spend it this year and next year – which will be the most difficult in terms of the pandemic’s economic consequences. This is as it should be. We agreed that we must make the utilisation of funds more flexible. Brussels operates a very rigid, strict, harsh and irrational system for determining how one country or another can use the funding due to it. We will now be streamlining this, making it easier and simpler. With regards to money, the important factor is not only its existence, but also the means of accessing it, as flexibly and rapidly as possible. So we agreed on a number of such important things. And we also agreed that we must create a much larger budget than that envisaged in earlier plans; this will mean that every Member State must contribute more. For a long time the wealthier Member States resisted this idea, but, as I see it, the pandemic has also brought about change in this respect. Therefore everyone will pay in more money – and naturally Hungary will also pay in more – so that the sum for budgetary management can be larger. But what we couldn’t agree on – though this debate isn’t really a vital one for Hungary – is whether the funds which in the next one or two years must be mobilised in addition to the budget in order to cope with the economic consequences of the pandemic should be loans made available to Member States in distress with the EU guaranteeing them; or, alternatively, whether our strategy should be to offer grants. We could express the latter in everyday language as a gift: money which is given but doesn’t need to be paid back. And so fierce debates are raging around this – understandably. Some type of compromise will be arrived at in the end, but this did not come about during yesterday’s discussions.
Hungary is the target of outrage whipped up in the Western media, which is accusing it of receiving more money from the EU than Italy, which is suffering catastrophic losses. But in addition to this there are continuous attacks on the law which makes extraordinary regulation or decrees possible – despite the Justice Minister trying to explain this on several platforms. What’s interesting is that two members of the European Commission, two commissioners, have said that there are no problems with the Hungarian laws, because they do not contradict European Union values. Yet most recently – yesterday – in the LIBE Committee [on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs] a Liberal MEP went so far as to say that it doesn’t matter that the Hungarian law isn’t violating these values: Hungary must be punished all the same. How can we understand all this?
First of all, let’s set things straight in the sphere of attacks. So there are attacks which come from the capital of an individual nation state, an EU Member State; and there are attacks that originate in Brussels. These are two different planets. Now I’m not particularly interested in what Berlin thinks of Hungary, this is of no significance; it has no more or less significance than what we in Budapest think about Berlin. Does what we think influence Germans? No. Does what they think influence us? No it doesn’t. The difference is that we are polite, and we don’t always say what we think; meanwhile it seems that in certain countries they say everything they think, and they choose the less elegant forms of diplomatic communication. But we’re able to live with that: we shake it off like a dog shaking water off its coat. We don’t need to concern ourselves with that. Then there’s Brussels, which is a different matter, because Brussels is a power centre. We exercise certain powers together with Brussels, but bureaucrats have occupied Brussels, and there the scope for rationality is more limited. The new President of the Commission has initiated positive changes, but there are still a lot of problems. There is plenty of work to do in order to shape the centre of the European Union so that it serves the interests of Member States rather than obstructs them, and so that it assists our defence operation instead of obstructing it. But we always see the hand of George Soros in developments, and this is also the case now. We don’t have enough time to talk about this now, but there is a small news item that was, I think, the most important news of the week. So how did we find out about the Soros plan for migration? We found out about it because its author wrote it and made it public. This week he also wrote a piece about the virus – about the management of the economic consequences of the pandemic – and made it public. To my mind this is Soros Plan 2.0. What did he write? He wrote that there’s a need for special financing: that there’s a need for the EU to take on debt, large loans if possible, with the principal on these loans not needing to be paid back in the future. The interest on them would have no end date, so we’d be paying it for as long as we live. The states would be paying for as long as they exist.
Isn’t that called debt slavery?
They like interest very much. So the situation is that a financial proposal has been tabled which is at least as dangerous as the migrant resettlement plan in terms of the grave consequences it would have for the European Union. I’m telling you and the listeners about this simply so that you can see that in Brussels continuous battles are being fought which always centre on who can make how much money out of us. And here it’s very important for the Hungarian government to stand firm and defend Hungary’s interests. I can say to you that this is what we have done over the past ten years, and we have not failed. We also look forward with hope to the clashes and disputes in the next round.
Thank you. You have been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.