Katalin Nagy: According to virologists, we’ve passed the peak of the third wave and there are fewer new infections, but the number of deaths and of those in hospital is declining only very slowly. By contrast, the situation in Britain is already good. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. When will we get to the stage at which Britain is now?
Good morning to your listeners. It’s worth mentioning Britain, because the virus that’s now creating such devastation is what we call a British virus: a British mutant with much greater aggressiveness and power – destructive power – than the virus we encountered one year ago, during the first wave of the pandemic. It’s the same virus, but it’s firepower, let’s say, is completely different. In the first period of lockdowns, social distancing alone was able to eradicate the pandemic in two to three months, and the second wave didn’t return until September. This virus, however, is not the same: it must be defeated; it must be bayoneted, it must be shot in the lungs. It must be destroyed. And isolation, lockdowns and social distancing can only slow its spread. This is such a well-trained virus that it can only be destroyed with a vaccine. So we’ve been living in a state of war for a year. And if we consider whether anything like this has been seen by this generation, ours and those younger than us, then I think not. Even the fall of communism, which thirty years ago many feared would lead to revolution and bloody conflict, didn’t produce wartime conditions in Hungary: we overthrew communism in a civilised, peaceful civic process and sent the Soviet troops home. But we haven’t seen such semi-war or wartime conditions. Our grandparents told us about things like this and we read about them in history books and saw them in movies: restrictions, curfews and lockdowns. The only things that haven’t happened have been rationing and any form of hyperinflation that would eat away our money – things which we also learned about in school. But almost everything else has happened: deaths, hospitalisations, patients on ventilators, mass import of medicines, vaccines. All this has the atmosphere of wartime. And sooner or later people tire of war, even if they didn’t start it. And so we don’t want to live in such conditions. At times like this we place greater value on a word which at other times we unjustly feel to be a platitude: peace. Everyone’s longing for conditions of peace, peaceful times, a peaceful life, serenity, calm and predictability. So the question that you’ve put – of when we’ll get to where the British are, who are already almost in what can be called peacetime – is a legitimate one. In the opinion of my – or government – experts, if it’s true that vaccinations are what matters, then we can say there will be peace when the virus has been defeated with vaccinations. Now in order to defeat the virus, we first need people who want to be vaccinated. This is called registration. I have good news: this is going well, and yesterday the number of people who have registered surpassed 4 million. So now more than 4 million people are willing to receive the vaccine. This is a growing number, but it’s still too small, and so we’re launching a campaign in which we’ve asked all sorts of famous people to bring their personal prestige and popularity to bear in order to get as many people as possible to register and be vaccinated. If everything goes to plan, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t, then 3 million of our compatriots will soon have received their first dose. We’ve already passed the figure of 2.7 million. We’ll reach 4 million in early May, although there’s some debate here over whether it will only be 3.9 million; but if I have anything to do with it, believe me that it will be 4 million and not 3.9 million. István György, who’s the state secretary in charge of vaccination management, knows all too well that – even with the best performance – the only question he’s asked every day is about how even more people can be vaccinated. So the pressure required for the good performance of the people directing vaccination is guaranteed. Then, in the first week or ten days of May, we’ll inject one million people in a week, to reach the figure of 5 million; after that we’ll reach 6 million by mid-May, and then 7 million by the third week of May. The number of adult Hungarian citizens – who can receive the vaccine – is 8 million, and so I can say that by the beginning of June we’ll have been able to vaccinate 7 million of these 8 million. My concern is that the number of people who have registered and who want to be vaccinated could be lower than the number of vaccines available. An international football event in which Hungary is also involved – the UEFA European Championship – will start on 15 June. By that time, everyone who has registered will definitely have received the vaccine, and we’ll have the opportunity to use immunity certificates, enabling people to attend the event. So this is how the numbers look now. We’ve now opened somewhat, or we took a cautious step last week – or maybe it happened this week after Easter: we can be outdoors even after 8 o’clock in the evening, as now the curfew only starts at 10 o’clock. I’d like to thank everyone for complying with this 8 o’clock rule. I only ever go home late at night, so I work beyond 8 o’clock; and when I’m going home I see the city streets. Although there’s been news of rule-breaking and violations, let’s not be misled by that. I can report what one’s been able to see lately as I’ve been going home – what’s more in the capital, in Budapest, which because of its size is still the most difficult place in which to ensure compliance: there’s hardly been a car or a pedestrian on the streets. And so people have been observing the restrictions with exemplary discipline. I’ve been watching the news from Western Europe, where there have been protests and deliberate violations of the rules. Our country has been exemplary in its cooperation with epidemiologists and authorities overseeing the state of danger. Well, in essence that’s how we stand now.
There was one day in which almost 200,000 vaccines were administered by doctors at vaccination points and by general practitioners in their surgeries. Can this pace be maintained? The numbers here are now very impressive, as you’ve said, but will there be enough vaccine for this? We know that the first single-dose vaccine is coming next week, so there will be a total of six types of vaccine available to us.
Well, we’re now directing one of the largest logistical, organisational operations in the country’s history. At the moment there are five types of vaccine, and each dose always has a pair, meaning that everyone’s first vaccination must be followed by a second one – with the interval between the two varying according to the type of vaccine used. So every dose administered must have a pair of the same type in storage somewhere, so that when the time comes the person who’s applied for the vaccine will receive their second vaccination at the appropriate time. Now it’s a far more complicated operation than anyone might imagine to organise registration, storage, transport and delivery on time, ensure vaccination of the right people and avoid confusion in the paperwork. I’ve seen the warehouse facility from which shipments are sent out, where the records are kept, and where the vaccines requiring different storage temperatures are stored separately in different refrigeration rooms. So this is a very serious task, and one shouldn’t forget the contribution of warehouse administrators, forklift drivers, shipment handlers, pilots and drivers, and people receiving early-morning deliveries. Only after all that is it the turn of doctors and nurses to administer the doses. So there’s a much larger apparatus working in the background of the vaccination campaign than people usually imagine. This is a huge logistical operation. And I have to say that our performance isn’t bad even on our own terms – and indeed we should express our recognition and gratitude for all this. But if we compare this to the countries of the community we belong to, to the other countries of the European Union, the numbers and results show us that there’s no room for debate. As they say in football: look at the league table, the numbers and the results are there in black and white. Hungary is far ahead of countries that people usually think are above us.
The latest news is that the Bavarians have reserved 2.5 million doses of Sputnik vaccine. The left-liberal weekly The Economist is also reporting that Brussels has bungled vaccine procurement. One of the most famous German economists is also saying that it was a mistake for Brussels to take this task away from the nation states. Doesn’t it seem as though now they’re not making the vaccine a political issue?
I also use more moderate language when talking about this situation, now that we’ve vaccinated elderly Hungarians, and that now around 90 per cent of people over the age of 65 have been vaccinated. To tell you the truth, this weighed heavily on me. So from the beginning I was confident that we could solve this, we could manage this logistical task. And in November, when I sat down with [Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade] Péter Szijjártó to come up with the vaccine procurement strategy, I was already sure that we could solve this problem. After all, many years of work have gone into building the trust that’s needed to procure vaccines in such an emergency – both from the West and the East. So I was sure that it was going to work. But I also knew that we were in a race against time. And patients are recovering. I’m not saying that there’s anything good about being sick, and sometimes people are even laid low by the illness. I myself know a lot of people personally who have been ravaged by this disease, and there can even be complications. So many things are possible. But if you have life you can be healed, you can be restored to health, and somehow one can manage. But when a life is lost, nothing more can be done. And the elderly were in danger of their lives. Let’s be clear: one couldn’t tell what chance of survival there was for people over the age of 65 who became infected with this virus. So in this race against time, every day the thought of saving as many lives as possible weighed heavily on my mind, knowing that it was the vaccine that could save lives. Now we’ve left that stage behind us. So now I talk a little more calmly about that matter, about what happened in Brussels. What happened was similar to the situation with migration. This has been very instructive. This is also what happened when we were building the border fence. Along came migration and an unexpected situation, and by the time they’d realised that it was going to be a problem, the migrants were already inside [the EU]. Now we’re faced with the question of family reunification, and ongoing incidents – and sometimes waves – of illegal immigration. There was one country which demonstrated the right spirit: we Hungarians were that country, as at the beginning we bore the brunt of the first wave. If we cast our minds back, we’ll recall that it caught us unprepared – think of the scenes at Budapest’s Keleti Railway Station in 2015. But in that moment we knew that if there was no EU solution within a short space of time, then we’d need to implement a national solution. And we built the border fence. What was the response to this? Well, we were called every name under the sun, except decent people. They attacked us in the most brutal terms possible. Today I look around, and I see fences in Bulgaria, fences in Greece, and ships being turned back in Italy. So with the vaccine the same thing has happened. At the beginning we said that, when purchasing vaccines, time – and not only price – should be a factor. And we also said that the possibility for national vaccine procurement shouldn’t be given up, because procurement policy directed by Brussels can always go awry – no matter how decent and committed the people implementing it. We argued for a backup plan, an alternative scenario. This involved the Chinese and Russian vaccines. And they immediately attacked us – exactly as they’d done on the issue of migration and the border fence. We were everything under the sun, except decent people. But what do we see now? The Minister President of Bavaria wants two million doses of Russian vaccine – and he not only wants to buy Russian vaccine, but also possibly to produce it. The same goes for the Austrians. So what’s your reward for being right? As a child I learned what that was from my parents, and that’s what we got in the beginning. When you’re right but in opposition to the majority, at first you get a whack on the head. But then you’re vindicated by events. And now it’s turned out that we’ve vaccinated twice as much of our population as our Western European sister states in the European Union. So I think we’ve made a good decision. And the important lesson is that, although there are countries which are larger than us and which have had more fortunate histories than we have, we ourselves must take responsibility for decisions affecting our own life and destiny.
Last week we talked about vaccination for people between the ages of 16 and 18. This is all the more relevant because Israel is already vaccinating people in this age group. There’s also talk in America of vaccinating this younger generation. Will we make a decision on this – and if so, when?
I’ve not yet received a clear answer from the epidemiologists. I raised this again in the Operational Group this morning. In Hungary there are thirteen vaccinations which are compulsory for children. In this I think that we’re among the world leaders – or maybe we are the world leaders. Therefore Hungary’s attitude towards vaccination and protection is much more open and supportive than those in many Western European countries. Historically speaking we tend to trust our doctors and epidemiologists, and if they say that something’s good we tend to believe it without reservations. This is why we receive thirteen vaccinations in childhood without any problems, and with almost no sign of an anti-vaccination movement among parents. In many Western European countries – not to mention America – the reverse is true. And although at today’s Operational Group meeting we decided on schools and school-leaving examinations, we still haven’t been able to decide on the issue of 16- to 18-year-olds. The last school-leaving examinations are on 10 May. The military has disinfected schools and we’ve vaccinated the teachers, so we’re ready to reopen the schools. We’ve decided that they could open on 19 April. But it’s not worth opening secondary schools for just a few days, only to close them again for school-leaving exams. So it’s simpler to restart face-to-face classes in secondary schools on 10 May. We’ve also decided on school-leaving examinations. These will only be written exams. So we’ll do what we did before, a year ago; we’re familiar with it, it worked, and we have experience with it. Experience is always worth more than speculation. We’ll stay on the path we’ve taken so far and we’ll organise school leaving examinations in the same way as we did one year ago: they’ll be exclusively written exams. This is also important because they play a role in university entrance. As last year we only had written exams, harmonising the procedure will make for fair competition between those who left school last year and those who are leaving school now. The details of this will be made public soon.
What will be the next step in easing, in opening up, when we’ve reached the point at which 3 million people have been vaccinated?
Every step depends on the number of people vaccinated, but epidemiological data must also be considered, because it sets the pace. We had a national consultation, which told us very clearly what consecutive steps should be taken. As I recall, around five to six hundred thousand people took part in it. And I have a fine list of priorities. So in the national consultation people said that schools should be opened first, then restaurants, then hotels, and then venues with ticketed entry: cultural and sporting events, cinemas and gyms. This is the sequence. Exactly what can be done on which particular day or week will be determined by the number of vaccinations. So I hope we’ll reach 3.5 million by 19 March, and that week…
Sorry, we’ll reach 3.5 million by 19 April, and then the following steps can be taken. We’ll try schools first. I see that we’ll reach 4 million in early May. We’ll be close to having enabled vaccination of everyone who’s registered. And then I think that immunity certificates will enable people to once again stay in hotels, and go to concerts, cinemas and sports events. At present I’d wait longer for that, but I think that we’re close to the point at which there will once more be social and communal events, attended by those who have immunity certificates.
Since last December the Government has been calling on us to register for vaccination, because vaccination is the only solution. Now in early April the Left has come out with a joint video encouraging everyone to have themselves vaccinated. Why do you think the Left waited three and a half months to do this?
On this I am biased, and not positively; so I apologise for that in advance. I don’t believe them. The Left are anti-vaccination, and I don’t think there’s any room for debate on that. I’m not just Prime Minister, but also a Member of Parliament, and so I deal with legislative issues. The fact is that they submitted a proposal for a parliamentary resolution. No matter who says what today or yesterday, this is a fact. They submitted and wanted to adopt a proposal for a parliamentary resolution which would have introduced a ban. This legislative proposal was for the Hungarian parliament to ban the use of Chinese and Russian vaccines in Hungary. Full stop. This is the fact of the matter. And if Parliament had accepted this, many hundreds – or thousands – more people would have died, in addition to the high number of losses which have already caused us such grief and bitterness. So if we’d accepted what the Left said, many more people would have died. For me it’s simply another unsurprising chapter in the hypocrisy of the Left that, while trying to talk others out of being vaccinated, they’re naturally having themselves vaccinated. So I don’t think that requires any further comment. Every thinking person knows exactly what to think about that.
This week a great deal of controversy was caused by the dismissal of the goalkeeping coach Zsolt Petry. The management of [Bundesliga team] Hertha Berlin decided that Zsolt Petry is no longer welcome at the club, because he’d expressed his opinions in an interview with the Hungarian daily Magyar Nemzet. What do you think about this?
This is a potential minefield, so I’ll try to express myself with precision. First of all, I won’t pass judgement on Germany. This happened in Germany. It’s enough of a problem for us that Germany passes judgement on Hungary. This isn’t the right thing to do in a relationship between two serious states. So I won’t reciprocate: I won’t pass judgement on Germany. Nevertheless, I’ll mention the general conclusion that I’ve come to over the past ten years: liberal politics in Europe today is the politics of suppression. Those who disagree with the liberal viewpoint are subject to suppression. And if you do voice your opinion, you’ll be punished. Here we see a man being punished with dismissal for not thinking what some others consider to be correct. Beyond the questions of principle, however, what’s really important is that this is a Hungarian. Hungary has had a very difficult history – especially over the past one hundred years; and today it’s fighting to be a serious, strong and successful country. Hungary will be a serious, strong and successful country if it observes certain laws – if it recognises, acknowledges and follows these laws. In my opinion, one such law is that no Hungarian is alone. So Zsolt Petry is not alone either: we are all with him. Following this, we glide through politics into a similarly serious field: that of football. Here, too, there’s something to be done; because we mustn’t forget that this situation developed in relation to our national team, as our goalkeeper has made an opposing statement. And our national teams are especially important to us. For a country of our size with a history like ours, which in the past hundred years has lost so many battles and wars, team sports still offer the opportunity for historic victories in peaceful circumstances. For this reason we don’t see players for our national teams as simply athletes, but as our sons and daughters; and this is how we tend to talk about them. They are us. Therefore the circumstances surrounding the national team matter to us. Any such debate will disrupt unity – and the first prerequisite for a successful team is unity. Now this unity has been broken. It may have been broken within the team, and unless we’re careful it could lead to a split between the team and the fans. So in such circumstances there’s one thing to be done: unity must be restored. We have two excellent men who I think are equal to this task: we have a fantastic team coach, and in Ádám Szalai we have a fantastic captain. So now I think that the sporting success, the footballing success of the next few weeks and months will depend on the quality of their work: on whether these two men manage to defend the team, maintain it and – if necessary – restore unity. I wish them every success in that.
Thank you. You’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.