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Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Kossuth Radio programme “Good Morning Hungary”

Katalin Nagy: Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has arrived in the studio from a meeting of the Operational Group. Good morning. What are the most important decisions you’ve had to make now?

Good morning everyone. The most important decision was that from Monday the restrictions in place today will definitely remain unchanged for another week. According to the experts this morning the reason for this is that in the third wave – we’re now in the third wave of infection – records are being broken. From the report we received this morning I can state that another 213 of our compatriots have died. There are very many people in hospital – more than ever: more than 9,000 patients are not on ventilators, and another 1,174 are on ventilators. These are the latest figures. And the epidemiologists have said that now isn’t the time for us to be able relax the measures which are in force. The first question is this: can our hospitals withstand this burden? In a time like this, at the Operational Group meeting we always review the capacities. The Operational Group is in the Ministry of Interior, and this review means that we listen to reports being given in the fairly terse language of the police. And there today I heard that we still have plenty of free beds, and we also have free beds with ventilators. As I’ve said, we now have more than 1,000 people – 1,174 – on ventilators, but we still have 1,618 such free beds. So we haven’t even reached half our capacity yet. And we also have more than 10,000 free COVID beds without ventilators – almost 11,000 of them. So we have significant capacities. The question is always whether there are enough doctors and nurses to operate these. Starting last weekend, on Sunday and Monday, I held two video conferences for the hospital directors, who were recently appointed by us. Most of them are new hospital directors, but they’ve held managerial positions before. We listened to reports on bed numbers, staff numbers, and so on. What they had to say was reassuring. It’s a pity that they weren’t heard by the whole country, because then people could have seen that they’re very serious people. So our hospital directors are experienced, well-prepared people. None of them are greenhorns. So all our county hospitals and our hospitals at the level below them are under competent control. Everyone has problems, and all of them saw shortcomings – either a need for more doctors or nurses, or intensive care units with physically awkward locations. So everyone has problems, and everyone needs to work. But it was clear to everyone that they’d be able to solve these problems – obviously with help from the centre. That’s how we stand at the moment.

Are medical students coming forward when they’re called?

At present the situation is that the majority of residents – they’re the trainees, recently graduated, who are preparing for their future careers – have already been vaccinated and deployed. Next in line for vaccination are medical students in their final year; we now have the legislative basis for this, and as far as I can see, they’re prepared in heart and soul to come forward if they’re needed. The most important question in today’s Operational Group meeting was whether a rapid increase in the number of vaccinations means that we can hope to see a reduction in the spread of the pandemic. Hungary would find it hard to cope with any further restrictive measures. Families are in trouble, with parents having to stay at home with children. It’s arduous looking after several children, children from nursery school or elementary school who must be taught online – you’re well aware of this yourself. Anyway, this is a burden for families. Therefore we can only offer them our praise. And I ask them to support this whole defence operation against the pandemic, because there’s a good chance of us being able to reopen schools later. As far as I can see, young people are also in a rather bad state. We also have a of young patients now. Today I heard an interesting opinion from the experts, that there’s a link between illness and severe symptoms of the disease, and obesity and suspected diabetes. This is a warning to us all. So there are also young people in hospital; but most young people are simply fed up with this situation, and would like to be freed from it. I can tell them that they need to be patient, support the defence operation, and there’s a good chance that they’ll have a summer of freedom. As far as I can see, the third group in a difficult situation comprises small and medium-sized enterprises. I regularly consult with the Chamber [of Commerce and Industry], and I see that the businesses in the most difficult situations are those in the services sector: the beauty industry, hairdressers, and shopkeepers who have now had to close their shops. What’s more, they feel that they’re being treated unfairly when they see that hypermarkets – that are still open only because of their provision of groceries – are also keeping their non-grocery sections open. And I think that they’re right. So they, too, are in a very difficult situation. We’re trying to provide wage support funding and rapid recovery loans, but the situation is difficult. I ask them to hold on. And once we can finally relaunch the economy – and they should trust us and trust me that we’ll be able to relaunch the economy – the coming business year will be a strong and plentiful one. But we must all hold on until then. Another important decision was made at today’s meeting of the Operational Group. As we see it, the most important defence measure is a rising number of vaccinations. The way your listeners should see this is that every week we’re vaccinating four to five times as many people as are being infected. Last week this meant that we registered 58,000 new infections, but vaccinated 293,000 people – this is the number of people who received their first dose. So the more people we vaccinate, the steeper the decline in the number of new infections. But this requires a rapid vaccination process, which in turn requires vaccines in sufficient numbers. We’ve concluded the national consultation. We have the answers to the questions we asked, and today I asked the Operational Group to prepare the plan for relaunching the country. As vaccination is its key element, the plan for relaunching the country must focus on the number of people who have been vaccinated. We need a vaccination plan which clearly lays down what will happen once the number of people who have been vaccinated reaches, say, 2.5 million, 3 million, 3.5 million or 4 million. Because the conclusion to be drawn from the consultation is that the reopening of the country can only be gradual – which is something I agree with. However, the measures of reopening, of relaunching, must be adjusted to the number of those who have already been vaccinated. Such a plan will soon be complete. The question is when reopening will start, what the earliest possible date can be. I can’t give your listeners an exact date, but I can tell you that we’ll be able to take the first step in reopening when everyone over the age of 65 who has registered has been vaccinated. Although there are always new registrants, so this is a dynamic situation and there’s never a final number, according to our calculations we’ll reach the point at which every registered person over 65 has been vaccinated when the total number of people vaccinated has reached 2.5 million. This will be the moment when, in light of the number of vaccinations, we’ll be able to start the relaunch.

But next Friday won’t another line be drawn, when you assess how we prepare for Holy Week? It will be Easter in two weeks’ time.

Yes. Perhaps it would have been simpler now to decide not about one week, but two weeks. I’m continuously observing our neighbouring countries, however; and I’ve also visited to Israel – the country which has been the best at doing all this – to see what’s happening. A great many things can change in a week. This is why we’ve only made a decision for one week, and we’ll see what the situation is in one week’s time. What’s more, Easter is an especially risky period, because the spread of infection, the spread of the pandemic, is linked to the number of meetings and contacts between people. Easter is Easter: the whole country is on the road, everyone’s visiting everyone else, and we douse girls and womenfolk. So the situation is that Easter requires a special disease control approach. This is why now we’ve only decided on one week. Next week – God willing, and provided that we’re still alive – I’ll come back and tell you about the rules that will apply to Holy Week.

When we will have vaccinated 2.5 million people? What are the experts calculating? A virologist, perhaps it was Miklós Rusvai, said he’s also calculated that at least one and a half million people have already recovered from the disease. So if we’re aiming for herd immunity this number can be added.

Let’s look at the numbers. I can tell you that today the number of people vaccinated will pass the one and a half million mark. The number of people who have vaccination certificates – the number of those who have already received their certificates – is 1,260,704. This is important, because 65 per cent of those who took part in the national consultation said that gradual reopening means that those who have immunity certificates should be exempt from certain restrictions. This means that if 1.26 million people already have certificates, if we’ve already vaccinated one and a half million people and we also have records of another half a million people who – on the basis of PCR tests – are confirmed to have been infected earlier, we can say that when we reach one and a half million, we’ll have two million people documented as having immunity. And this is where what you were talking about comes into it: how many people could there be who have had the infection without having a PCR test? How many people had the infection, but weren’t tested? For these people we’ve opened a third channel for obtaining an immunity certificate. If someone believes that they’ve already had the infection, they can go to a laboratory to be tested. There they’ll receive a certificate: if they’ve had the virus, they’ll receive an immunity certificate, despite not having been inoculated and not being on the list of 500,000 people who have had a positive PCR test result. This is the third way that someone can receive an immunity certificate. I’d recommend this to everyone, because – based on the consultation – there will be a phase in the reopening plan during which only the holders of immunity certificates will be able to use certain services.

We’ve received further deliveries of AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines, but fewer than expected. At the same time, yesterday we heard that Sándor Szaniszló, the DK [opposition party Democratic Coalition] Mayor of Pestszentlőrinc, posted on social media that a few hundred Chinese vaccines have been sent back, because members of the public didn’t want them. Incidentally, within a short time several hundred angry commenters demanded to know who had been asked, because they would have wanted those vaccines. What do you think about the contradiction that, while everyone knows – or should know – that vaccination is the only solution, there are still some who are actively working against it?

Let’s talk about this phenomenon first. I’m asking families and businesses to hold on, to endure these few more weeks. I’m also asking young people to remain patient for a few more weeks. At the same time, the only thing we can ask of the Opposition is this: they can best contribute to the defence operation by calling a halt to their anti-vaccination campaign. The numbers I’ve just mentioned also show that as the number of vaccinated people rises, so the number of infections falls, and ever fewer people will die. Those who are anti-vaccination are putting the lives of their compatriots at risk. Therefore, in all of my statements – and also in Parliament this week – I’ve been asking the left-wing opposition to stop their anti-vaccination campaign. I know it’s strange for the Opposition or the Left to be quiet, and this isn’t normal in politics, but they’d be helping the country immensely if now they stopped their anti-vaccination campaign and remained silent. Of course we can’t order them to do so, because this is a democracy. If they continue, they continue. As regards vaccines, the news we received from AstraZeneca last week is truly distressing. Let me repeat: Brussels is organising the procurements; Brussels orders and distributes the vaccines.

Excuse me, but is that the case? Yesterday, in answer to a journalist’s question, an EU spokesperson said that the vaccines have been ordered from the vaccine manufacturers by the EU Member States, and the European Commission plays no role in this. But haven’t we been hearing the exact opposite for a year?

If I could publish the contracts that I took with me into the chamber of the Parliament, everyone would be able to read what the order of procurement is. The Commission plays an extremely important role in procurement: we surrendered the right to procure vaccines independently, handing this right to the Commission. Now we regret having done so, and we regret it as much as anyone could. I would hit my head against the wall for having believed them, for having believed – together with my 26 colleagues – the argument that the procurement of vaccines would be faster and more effective by leaving this task to Brussels.

But now they’re shifting the responsibility onto you.

Yes, but you know how it is: success always has many fathers, while failure is always an orphan. So they bungled this. This is our second great disappointment in relation to common European policy. The first was migration, when we Hungarians just stood and stared in disbelief, unable to understand how it could be that the European Union virtually invited in migrants, instead of stopping them at the borders. This is the other thing in which the EU has undertaken to do something – in a life-or-death situation – and has asked national governments to hand over powers. We did that, and now the EU is unable to cope with the task. This is the second severe disappointment, which clearly shows that the era of nation states, national governments and national parliaments is not over, and we will continue to need them. Returning to the problem, in the next two months the number of doses of AstraZeneca vaccine we receive will be 500,000 fewer than the number we agreed on. What can one do apart from growling a few irate sentences under one’s breath? These sentences also contain a few stronger oaths in the folk vernacular, and so I can’t say them now; but I’m sure that the very same sentences were muttered across the whole of Europe, except in different languages.

The Germans voiced them.

Yes, they did.

They called the whole thing a “shitshow”.

I’d rather not say that now, but I understand them. But we talk to Péter Szijjártó every day, we’re speaking to each other and working together, because receiving around 500,000 fewer vaccines from the West over the next two months means that in order to maintain the present vaccination rate we must aim to procure 500,000 more Eastern vaccines in the next two months – or even more, if possible. We’re working on this, we’re negotiating on the already known vaccines and we’ve ordered the testing of new ones. So there’s a good chance – particularly if the Minister of Foreign Affairs doesn’t lose momentum – of replacing the missing AstraZeneca vaccines with Chinese and Russian ones, and carrying on according to the vaccination plan.

What do you say to the fact that in Brussels a draft has already been prepared about what the “vaccine passport” will be like? Shouldn’t they deal with this when enough vaccine has already arrived, or even been used?

I also think that now what we’re expecting from Brussels are vaccines, not passport regulations. They’re not even dealing with passports, but regulatory concepts for a passport. If anyone takes a good look around Europe, they’ll see that never before has the continent been in such a difficult situation, and that never before have they seen this many unhappy people – including Hungarians. There’s isolation, loneliness, anxiety and a loss of composure. The whole continent is in low spirits, and we Hungarians are also in low spirits. I think we’re fighting well, and everyone’s doing what they need to; but if you look at the country and talk to your compatriots, you’ll see that, compared with the condition we were in a year ago – the condition we were in before the virus – we’re spiritually battered. While we naturally need to relaunch the economy, when we talk about relaunching we must also relaunch the country spiritually. We must restore joy, balance and optimism, despite the fact that in the meantime we’ve sustained losses, our relatives have died, and our friends have died. Very many people are only just recovering from illness, but we must nonetheless try to guide the country back towards positive feelings. I could also say that we must reunite the country. We must not only relaunch the economy, but we must also reunite Hungary. Naturally this task is not only for politicians, and although I’ll do everything I can, that won’t be enough. We’ll also need artists, people from the world of culture, people from the world of the spirit and our churches; we’ll need everyone. We’ll have to revitalise our communities so that as soon as possible we can recover from this crisis not only economically, but also spiritually. And the situation is no different anywhere in Europe. So I have to say that Brussels should deal with issues like these, instead of constructing regulatory concepts. But God knows that this is the Brussels we have now, and this is what we must make do with.

One more thing. Opposition mayors here in the capital, and also in the provinces, have offered the Government assistance in creating vaccination points, thereby facilitating vaccinations. They’re upset that the Government hasn’t taken advantage of this assistance, and they’re even calling it arrogant.

If you log onto the internet, or just listen in general to conversations about the pandemic, you might feel that you’re inside a beehive. I’ve never seen this many confusing and contradictory news reports on any subject. Even the migration situation never reached such a level – despite the fact that then, also, everything was in the mix. So I ask everyone to avoid being taken in by fake news and all kinds of world-saving or global conspiracy theories. Naturally, everyone is free to listen to and believe anyone they want. There’s freedom, there’s democracy, and that’s how it should be. But even if they’re fed up with the Government or with me personally, all the same I ask them to try to listen to us. I’m trying to communicate as accurately as possible what will happen and when, what’s expected, what’s certain and what’s not certain. I’m not putting up any smokescreens: I accept your invitation and come here every week not to share joyful, good news with members of the electorate, but to tell them what the true situation is. Today the true situation is that in Hungary we’re administering vaccinations at thousands of vaccination points. The shortage is not of vaccination points, but of vaccines. When we have plenty of vaccines, we may well find that we have fewer vaccination points than required; but we have a plan for this, a plan for how to open thousands more vaccination points. Today, however, this is not the problem tormenting us. I’ve also received reports from general practitioners. At present the majority of vaccines are being given by general practitioners. Therefore I’ve asked government offices to contact those general practitioners who think that their surgeries aren’t suitable for vaccination, and to ask them how they can help to ensure that all general practitioners can fulfil this task. Because rather than taking vaccination points out of general practitioners’ surgeries, we must make those surgeries suitable for vaccination. Naturally we also have hospital vaccination points, and they’re working well. If the number of vaccines rises steeply, if large quantities of vaccines arrive all at once, we’ll also increase the number of hospital vaccination points. And if that’s not enough, we have another plan. So I’m grateful for any assistance and offers. The Operational Group will respond to all these, and will tell everyone when and how they can contribute to the joint defence operation.

On 6 March the Fidesz group left the European People’s Party group in the European Parliament. And now – as Katalin Novák has written – the time has come to bid farewell, and Fidesz has left the European People’s Party as a whole. What’s your assessment of the period during which Fidesz was a member of the People’s Party?

It was good, a fine period, but it was enough. In essence the first cracks in this relationship appeared during the migration crisis. There were also disputes earlier, because within the People’s Party we didn’t receive clear and unanimous support for our reduction of household utility charges; and similarly we didn’t receive unambiguous support for the taxation of banks and multinational companies – which I understand, because those multinational companies mostly came to Hungary from their countries. When in 2010 we needed to address the economic crisis, we only received their half-hearted support, while on the issue of migration they didn’t support us at all. So one could see that differences in conception had widened. And now this pandemic has hit us; but instead of helping us and other governments in the battle against the virus, they kept harassing us and changed their statutes to constrict us still more. So all this was undignified, absurd and pointless. In such circumstances it’s best to head for the door. I’m in contact with the Polish prime minister and Minister Salvini, who’s now responsible for economic affairs in the Italian government; and these three countries – Poland, Italy and Hungary – will seek to reorganise the European Right. We’re going to meet in person soon to discuss this issue, and together we’ll plan the future.

Thank you. You’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.