The government expects Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony to “make clear his position on restarting life” in the capital, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, Gergely Gulyás, said at a regular government online press briefing. Referring to a recent letter by the mayor, Gulyás said Karácsony was softening his position and appeared to be “ready to negotiate ways to restart life in Budapest together with the relevant deadlines”. Gulyás said the coronavirus epidemic was easing in Hungary but the greater Budapest area was worse affected than the rest of the country, with 1,240 active cases reported from the capital and 726 elsewhere. So far 301 people have died of Covid-19 in Budapest and Pest County as opposed to 82 elsewhere. He warned that preventive measures must not be abandoned to ensure that case numbers do not rise again. He noted that Budapest’s borders have not been sealed and he cautioned people leaving the capital to observe coronavirus-related regulations outside the capital, too.
Responding to Gulyás’s press briefing, Gergely Karácsony, the city’s mayor, said the central government was blaming the municipal leadership for policies when it was the government itself that wielded unlimited emergency powers. “Apparently, I’m to be blamed for everything,” Karácsony said on Facebook. He noted that he had written to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán asking him not to spread allegations that the municipality had tightened restrictive measures against the people of Budapest. Karácsony cited communication over whether Budapest residents could travel outside the city, saying residents had always been free to do so.
Meanwhile, Gulyás at his presser said applications are ongoing for subsidies under the government’s economic protection plan, he noted, adding that so far a total of 3,000 companies have committed to preserving 44,000 jobs. The EU has made it possible for the governments of member states to provide investment support worth a maximum of 800,000 euros to a business with the proviso that it contributes at least an equivalent of that sum, he said. The 50 billion forints (EUR 143m) Hungary has set aside for funding as part of that scheme has been tapped by now, Gulyás said, adding that the government plans to expand that budget. The number of people included in the government’s fostered jobs scheme will be raised and training provided. Also the state will fund various options for adult education and professional retooling. Meanwhile, the defence ministry will increase the number of contract soldiers, he said.
The jobless are entitled to three months of unemployment benefit, he noted, adding that the government trusted that “nobody will be without a job for longer than that”. Further, people struggling with their rents of state or municipal housing will not have contracts terminated before the state of emergency is called off, he said. “We don’t want anyone to be left without a home.” Gulyás thanked teachers, students and parents for their efforts in managing school graduation exams which started on Monday smoothly. He said those who whipped up fears regarding holding the exams had been proven wrong.
Gulyás said that a schedule to put hospital beds reserved for coronavirus patients back into normal service has been outlined in a government decree. The priority right now is to restore basic services and outpatient clinics, a process started earlier this week, he said. The ministry of human resources will keep the public informed about services available, he said, adding that the aim is to return to normality as soon as possible. He said almost 100,000 coronavirus tests have been conducted in Hungary and the highest daily number was recorded on Wednesday. He added that testing using representative samples coordinated by Semmelweis University was “unique in Europe” and the detailed results would be published next week. Answering the question about the future of the ventilators purchased in preparation to treat masses of Covid-19 patients, Gulyás said it was just as well they had been procured as a second wave of the epidemic was expected “in autumn the latest”. With ventilators at hand a “situation similar to Italy and New York” could be avoided, he said.
The minister said that the Hungarian government had so far spent some 600 billion forints (EUR 1.7bn) on efforts against the spread of coronavirus. He insisted that “the EU has not contributed a single extra cent”. Concerning the summer holidays, Gulyás said he hoped that borders would open in July or August, adding, however, that “this cannot be promised”.
Asked if Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has received an apology in reaction to a recent letter he sent to European leaders, Gulyás said that the letter had been addressed to members of the European People’s Party, and called on EPP chief Donald Tusk to apologise for “slanderous accusations, which were refuted by the European Commission”. The commission has “made it clear that concerns around Hungary’s coronavirus law lacked a basis and that the legislation is in line with European law.”
Regarding delays in car-making giant BMW’s investment in Debrecen, eastern Hungary, Gulyás said Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó is scheduled to hold talks with the company’s leadership next week. The investment will go ahead and operations will start in 2023 the earliest, he added.
Meanwhile, Gulyás said all travellers currently returning home from abroad by air must undergo a two-week quarantine. He confirmed that the government was not planning to maintain the state of emergency any longer than justified. The special legal order which involves restricting some basic rights is necessary because it is the only way to introduce such measures as curfew restrictions which go against the constitutional right to free movement.
Gulyás also said that the current drawing away of resources from the Paks nuclear power station development project would not result in delays to the project’s implementation.
Commenting on a Freedom House report saying that Hungary was not a democracy but a hybrid regime, he said the organisation was starting to shift from being an NGO to a “party political agent”. Freedom House owes its existence to the liberal leadership and the support of US financier George Soros, so the organisation is not a judge of but a participant in Hungarian political debates on the side of the opposition, he said, adding that “Brussels intrigue” was harming Hungary’s position but not to an extent that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán would not be able to counterbalance in the European Council. It would be desirable if efforts were focused on Hungary receiving as much funding as possible, he added.