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Measures to contain the novel coronavirus epidemic will cost “several hundred billion forints”, but those resources are available from central coffers, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office told a regular government press briefing. Gergely Gulyás said that the situation in Hungary was not nearly as bad as in most countries of Europe because the government had taken all necessary measures much earlier. He added, however, that the number of those infected could increase in leaps and bounds in the next days and weeks. He said that all conditions were in place to control the epidemic and the health-care system was prepared to handle “the highest possible number” of patients.
Gulyás thanked health-care and law-enforcement staff, adding that the success of preventative measures depended on their efforts. Hungary currently has 2,500 respirators, and the government is bent on increasing that number, he said, adding that the government is in the process of purchasing equipment from abroad, but he noted uncertainties around deliveries.
Concerning the Covid-19 disease, Gulyás said 80-90% of the patients had no symptoms, but there were some that required hospitalisation. He added that few deaths were primarily caused by the novel coronavirus. “This is typically a secondary disease which becomes lethal because of another primary problem.”
On another subject, Gulyás said that leaders of the European Union will meet in a teleconference on Thursday to discuss efforts against the epidemic. He added that “Brussels’ plans are the least favourable for Hungary” because the EU had proposed making it easier for members to access funds, and Hungary has already tied up nearly all funds allocated to the country. The Hungarian government has proposed that equipment used for virus prevention should be imported duty-free from third countries, he said.
Concerning the economy, Gulyás said the government was working to ensure the functioning of the economy and to save jobs. He noted a recently introduced moratorium on consumer and business debt servicing and a ban on increasing loan repayments from next year. He said the money left with households would help the economy survive. Gulyás said the government was asking the operators of universities and schools to continue their closure until parliament comes to a relevant decision next week. Kindergartens and crèches should also be closed, he added. He noted that government measures taken under the state of emergency will expire in 15 days. Referring to opposition attempts to block new legislation in connection with measures to tackle novel coronavirus, Gulyás warned that the government, if it chose to extend the state of emergency repeatedly, would in effect be depriving parliament of its powers.
Answering a question about criticism of the government’s virus response, Gulyás said, “Hungary is grateful for any help from the EU, but the community is not providing a substantial amount”. Any hindering of efforts by EU member states to combat the virus is “unacceptable”, he said, referring to “a political attack against the Hungarian government at a time when cooperation is needed across the whole EU.” Meanwhile, he said Hungary is keeping its borders sealed under its own authority but in accordance with European Union regulations.
On another subject, Gulyás said state-owned energy company MVM has completed the acquisition of Mátrai Erőmű, the country’s second-biggest power plant, at a price of 17.4 billion forints (EUR 61.7m). The acquisition of Status Power Invest, which owns Mátrai Erőmű, is a matter of “national strategic significance” and is justified by the need for a technological upgrade to meet climate protection goals, he said. The power plant provides 16% of Hungary’s electricity output and plays a key role in protecting jobs and maintaining economic stability in the region, Gulyás said.
Gulyas also addressed criticism of Hungary abroad. “There are lots of people in the EP and EU institutions who hate the [Hungarian] government, but we’re asking them to put their hobby aside and take Hungary off their agenda for now, when the whole of Europe is tied up with coronavirus protection efforts,” Gulyás said.
Commenting on curfews ordered by mayors in their respective localities, Gulyás said the state has sole competence to impose such restrictions, adding that the local measures would be reviewed by the government office. Asked about a suggestion by a lawyer of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee NGO that detention rules for less serious offenders should be loosened amid the current circumstances, Gulyás said it was “sad” to see the lawyer put forward “such an outrageous proposal” but “just as sad” to see the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights do so, too. A jail sentence, once handed down, must be enforced, he added. Gulyás insisted that coronavirus tests were being carried out in line with World Health Organisation guidelines. He said there were enough test kits available in Hungary, and more tests would be made as the infection rate rises. Asked about the option of parliament holding sessions online, Gulyás said Hungary’s constitution clearly states that “lawmakers present in the chamber shall ensure a quorum”. A constitutional amendment would take four weeks to consider, Gulyás said, adding that no such proposal was before parliament.