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GULYÁS: IMPORTANT TO KEEP LID ON VIRUS

 

Every effort should be made to keep any second wave to a minimum, Gergely Gulyás, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, said. If active infections in Hungary exceed 1,000-1,500, then a second wave would get under way, he said, adding that there are currently 500-600 active infections. He confirmed that a decision has been made to keep simplified rules on medicine subscriptions in force after the Sept. 17 regulation expires. Commenting on screening requirements for travellers returning from countries classed as yellow and red, he said tests could be used from both state and private health-care providers for people who want to leave quarantine. The ministry will release detailed instructions on the requirements after Aug. 1, he added. In response to a question concerning police sanctions for the violation of mask-wearing rules, he said the law allows for fines up to several tens of thousands of forints, and this had been applied in a few cases. At the same time, he said the government was asking people to observe the rules voluntarily.
Meanwhile, Gulyás said the Hungarian government will turn to the European Commission to facilitate higher wages for employees of the national postal service. Gulyás noted that the national economy was much worse off than before the coronavirus crisis, but Hungarian postal employees were “earning undeservedly low wages in relation to the high quality services they provide”. The postal service is not a profitable enterprise and any pay rise requires the European Commission’s approval, he said, adding that the government was also in talks with the relevant trade unions concerning the magnitude of a potential pay rise.
On the subject of reported development plans for Budapest’s Hajógyári Island, Gulyás said that the government would not support any such construction on the island.
Asked about issues around news portal Index, the prime minister’s chief of staff said: “There is mounting evidence that this is a power struggle within the [opposition] left wing”. “The media will remain free in Hungary as long as the government does not get involved in these cases in any way,” he said. “The government is happy to see that everybody is doing their job freely and without restrictions,” he added. Answering a question about a letter by Fidesz MEPs to the European People’s Party on the subject, Gulyás suggested that opposition MEPs were spreading “lies”, and Fidesz would inform the EPP about this. “From the point of press freedom — regardless of what false claims leftist MEPs may have made in the European Parliament — not even the players concerned would deny that all guarantees for that freedom are in place.”
Commenting on unemployment, Gulyás cited official figures as showing that 4.5 million people are currently employed, 38,000 fewer than before the coronavirus outbreak but 100,000 more than last year. He said hopefully employment would return to the level of 2019 before the end of this year. Gulyás said it was difficult to forecast economic growth, but a 3% contraction “may not be far off the mark”. August figures and the economic effects of a possible second wave should also be considered, he added.
Answering a question concerning government plans to transfer the ownership of a handball stadium now under construction in Budapest’s 9th district to sports club Ferencváros, Gulyás said Ferencváros would be “a good manager” of the new facility. He added that the stadium will also host state-organised events.
Gulyás was asked about a European Union infringement procedure concerning the segregation of the Roma minority. Consultations with the European Commission are under way, he noted, adding that the situation of the Roma in Hungary was “tangibly better” than under previous governments. Figures indicating school attendance and education, as well as Roma youth entering higher education, are “incomparably better than before”, he insisted.
On the subject of a referendum initiated by the opposition Socialists aimed at protecting free beaches around Lake Balaton, Gulyás said that even though those beaches are owned by local councils, the central government last year financed the renovation of thirty, while this year 26 others are being revamped from central funds.