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Hungary’s government is set to approve Hungary’s biggest economic stimulus plan since the transition to democracy, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office said over the weekend. The package will be enough to finance the government’s coronavirus response measures and “the hundreds and thousands of billions needed to restart the economy”, Gergely Gulyás told a government press briefing on Saturday.
He said some 30,000 people have filed for unemployment since the virus made its way to Hungary, with some 4,000 jobs being lost each day since the beginning of April. The actual unemployment figure, however, is likely higher, Gulyás said, pointing out that the number of job openings have fallen from 70,000 to 40,000-50,000 in the recent period. The government has spent some 100 billion forints on measures aimed at preserving jobs over the past month, he said.
Asked about details concerning the government’s economy protection action plan, he said consultations were ongoing with the central bank, adding that the bank would make an important announcement after the meeting of the Monetary Council next Tuesday. He said the plan in its entirety will be worth around 18-22% of Hungary’s GDP.
In addition to the gross 500,000 forint bonus to be paid out to health-care staff in the summer, district nurses and health-care workers will also receive a 20% pay rise in November, the PM’s Office chief said. The summer bonus will cost 70 billion forints.
He said the government’s priority continues to be saving lives and protecting the health of the public, adding that the government has spent 380 billion forints on protective equipment so far.
Asked if wearing face masks in public spaces would be made mandatory, Gulyás said decisions on such matters were up to the operative board set up to coordinate the epidemic response. The board makes its decisions based on the recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Hungarian virologists, he noted, adding that so far, no such recommendation had been made. In response to another question, he said that so far, 85 health-care workers have been infected with coronavirus. Asked about wait times for coronavirus tests, Gulyás said testing had increased significantly in recent weeks. Two weeks ago, the number of tests carried out was well below 10,000 but had now reached 20,000, he said.
Asked if the government was concerned that another Article 7 procedure could be invoked against Hungary by the European Union over the epidemic response law or if ruling Fidesz could be expelled from the European People’s Party (EPP), Gulyás said the government had got used to Hungary getting “berated and smeared” over the past several years. At the same time, he said, the government considered it “unusual that they’re still preoccupied with us” at a time when the entire continent is facing serious challenges. Hungary is prepared to deal with any disputes once the epidemic subsides, he said, adding that “until then the government will not give in to any provocation by the EU or the EPP”.