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Restrictions on movement to be imposed in Hungary

Restrictions on movement will be introduced in relation to the entire territory of Hungary for the period between 28 March and 11 April due to the coronavirus epidemic. As a result, for two weeks, citizens will only be allowed to leave their homes and places of residence for the purpose of going to work or meeting other essential needs, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced on Friday on Kossuth Radio’s programme ‘Good morning, Hungary’ after the early morning meeting of the Operational Group responsible for the containment of the coronavirus infection.

Mr Orbán described the measure as reasonable and proportionate, indicating that it was put together on the basis of international examples. The Hungarian version relies primarily on the Bavarian solution, but is a little more stringent.

They are trying to separate the high-risk elderly from younger people “in a bearable manner”, he explained, and so a special rule will come into force in the case of food stores, personal hygiene stores and pharmacies which will continue to remain open without restrictions. Persons over the age of 65 years will be allowed to visit these stores between 9.00 a.m. and 12.00 p.m. During this period, others will not be allowed to enter the premises.

The Prime Minister expects the restrictions on movement to further reduce the number of face-to-face interactions, and if this happens the speed of the spread of the virus will also slow down.

With reference to information gathered on the basis of questionnaires, the Prime Minister described the restrictions imposed so far as successful, indicating that Hungarians have reduced the quantity of social interactions to one tenth. However, unless further restrictions are imposed, this will not decrease any further. Therefore, the time has now come for the imposition of restrictions on movement, he explained.

The decree on restrictions on movement lists the essential reasons for which persons may leave their homes or places of residence. The government made every effort to define them in such a way that “life should remain liveable”, he said.

Among essential reasons he mentioned that parents who are unable to take care of their children’s supervision at home will continue to be able to take them to schools and nursery schools.

People can also go outdoors; however, they are asked not to congregate and to keep an appropriate distance from one another. Naturally, more permissive rules apply to relatives, he explained.

While non-compliance with the rules constitutes a breach of law, Mr Orbán asked police officers to help people comply with, rather than enforce the rules.

He stressed that this is not a curfew because during a curfew “not a fly can fly in or out”. He added that he is determined to avoid a situation in Hungary where the need arises for the introduction of restrictions which make life almost unbearable.

The Prime Minister also highlighted that bigger crises – such as a major epidemic as in the present case – can only be managed intelligently. “The Hungarian people have always done well in the department of innate intelligence. […] Discipline, too, requires innate intelligence,” he said.

Regarding the internal political situation, he said “at this time, it is not politics we need,” but unity because “the more of us combine our efforts, the more human lives we can save”. This is not about power now, it is about human lives, he stressed.

He recalled that because at the last sitting of Parliament they had not been given the necessary mandate with the required urgency, some measures had become uncertain from a legal point of view. These include border-crossing bans which have now been extended on different legal grounds as “the country cannot be left defenceless even if the opposition refuses to consent to the prompt adoption of decisions,” he said.

The decisions on the closure of universities, too, have ceased to have effect. They asked rectors, however, to keep their institutions closed.

The Prime Minister observed that next week the votes of government-party Members of Parliament will be enough for the decisions necessary for prompt action as “speed is of the essence”. During an epidemic, lives could depend on prompt reactions, he pointed out, adding that the government does not want to adopt measures that it has no right to; it simply wants to be able to make swift decisions.

Regarding the EU and the criticisms levelled at the proposed legislation on the coronavirus containment effort, Mr Orbán said “for all I care, they can scrutinise [the proposal] as long as they like; I wish them all the very best, and good health”. There are situations when one cannot be polite, and therefore he plainly told EU critics that this is no time for “being smart” about legal and theoretical issues, we must save lives, he said.

He also said in the present epidemic the EU’s weaknesses are especially coming to the surface.

He further observed that Hungary had received help from China and the Turkic Council.

At the same time, he asked: Where were the EU’s well-paid people working in the disease control office and what did they have to say about the coronavirus in January and February?
Regarding the Hungarian economy protection measures, the Prime Minister said “at this time, people are the number one priority, not the economy” but in the meantime they are also working on ways to protect and restart the economy.

We must express our appreciation at this time primarily to physicians, nurses, paramedics, disease control experts and law enforcement workers, he stressed, but equally speaking in words of praise about people who work in supermarkets, pharmacies, factories or as truck drivers.

“I am grateful to every Hungarian because if there is a war – and this is a war situation – it is not only the frontline that matters, while it is naturally the most important, but also the home front,” he said, highlighting that the home front, too, appears to be well-organised.

He said, as expected, he will present an action plan which will serve to restart the economy sometime in the first or second week of April.

Regarding the health care situation, Mr Orbán argued that at this time the goal is to slow down the spread of the virus, not to “kill” the virus because that requires a vaccine.

He also said some 80 per cent of people only carry the virus, and hardly even notice that they have been infected.

At the same time, 15 to 20 per cent of patients fall ill and display symptoms. Some of these many people – around two million projected to Hungary’s entire population – will also need hospital treatment, he explained, while the elderly and those with chronic underlying illnesses will require intensive care. If we are unable to slow down the infection, they will all need hospitalisation at the same time, and the Hungarian health care system would not be able to cope.

When Hungary reaches the peak of the epidemic, health care will be exposed to an approximately ten-fold workload, compared with normal peace time, in terms of supplies, beds, ventilators, physicians and nurses, he said, pointing out that protecting physicians is one of the most important tasks.

He also announced that from Monday morning uniformed “hospital commanders” would appear at the head of every hospital.

Naturally, they will not decide on medical issues – physicians will; “hospital commanders” will be responsible for enforcing disease control regulations, ensuring the availability of supplies and “maintaining” staff management, the Prime Minister said. He stressed that if this system proves to work well in the next few weeks or months, hospitals will not be overwhelmed.

“The way the country is working at present is a military and tactical action plan. […] If we do this right in the next couple of weeks, the number of face-to-face interactions will significantly decline, and the spread of the virus will slow down,” Mr Orbán said.