The head of the Prime Minister’s Office said the decision to order hospitals to vacate 50% of their beds and have 8,000 functioning ventilators ready had been a “strictly professional one”, adding that the government was prepared for a worst-case scenario. Regarding the course of the epidemic in Hungary, Gergely Gulyás said it would take weeks after the peak expected on May 3 to level off, and modelling indicated that it would recede in waves. Until a vaccine is developed, “we will have to live with the virus one way or another”, he said, adding that virologists expected a second wave to appear in September-October. Answering a question on making wearing face masks compulsory, Gulyás said it was up to the operative board to make such a decision. Compulsory face coverings are ordered for the most part in enclosed spaces such as shops and public transport in other countries, he noted. Regarding accepting gravely ill coronavirus patients from other countries, Gulyás said there were no such plans as yet. Hungary will be happy to help others once it is in a position to do so without endangering its own citizens’ security and health, he said. Commenting on the quality of available protective gear, Gulyás said most items suited their purpose. He added that some 2% of masks have been forwarded to ethnic Hungarians beyond the borders and to other countries. He said he was unable to provide an exact figure concerning the level of infections among health staff. He added, however, that the Hungarian average was in line with international figures, or around 10%.
Meanwhile, he noted that Hungary’s parliament — unlike those of other countries or even the European Parliament — has been meeting regularly since the start of the outbreak. The cabinet regularly briefs the legislature on the status of its epidemic response measures, and the opposition has had the chance to voice its criticisms, he said.
On the jobs front, Gulyás noted 51,000 people have filed for unemployment benefit since March 11, with the number of job vacancies falling to 44,000. At the same time, that the government’s recent economic protection measures had helped slow job losses, he added.
As regards school graduation, he said all conditions were in place to hold exams safely and in written form on May 4. Organising the exams was not a matter of prestige or politics but a professional one, Gulyás said, adding that the public education state secretary will hold consultations with every side, including the parent and student organisations, as well as relevant trade unions, he said. The exams may be delayed by two or three weeks if necessary, he added.
Regarding remarks made by Vera Jourová, the Vice-President of the European Commission and commissioner for values and transparency, Gulyás welcomed that “the commissioner nominated by liberal parties, who has often criticised Hungary, has conceded that Hungarian measures are in line with EU law”. This will not end the dispute, Gulyás warned, “as criticism [against Hungary] has never been based on facts but an inclination to criticise, hate and despise the country and the government.”
Commenting on the economy, he said the government had already taken over the payment of several hundred thousand forints of wage costs on behalf of employers and regulations were amended after consultations with companies. Consultations, he added, will continue and changes will be made if necessary, but the current form of support is already good tool for handling unemployment-related problems in a way that does not involve paying benefits.
He said no changes have been made to inflation projections. An important decision has been made concerning pensioners and instead of taking away a month’s pension from them, as it happened during crisis in the past, they will get back the 13th month pension. This also demonstrates that the government wants recovery from the crisis not through austerity. Commenting on whether the extension of eligibility for job-seekers’ benefits has been considered, he said the cabinet believes benefits should be a last resort and help should be given instead by offering work and jobs.