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Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, in a regular interview to public Kossuth Radio, said there were “no financial restrictions” to the emergency measures implemented by the government against the new coronavirus outbreak, stressing that human life was the priority.
Orbán said that unlike in most European countries, Hungary’s constitution grants the government the power to suspend or subvert general constitutional principles in extraordinary situations and enact measures that are warranted depending on the severity of the given situation. The state of emergency, he said, could eventually warrant measures like bringing factories under state control. “It lies somewhere between the peaceful times of democracy and the state of war so you have to be careful with it.”
Orbán said he had proposed announcing the state of emergency after having seen that most European countries were failing to contain the virus. He noted that the state of emergency declared by the government on Wednesday could remain in force for a period of two weeks, after which time parliament’s approval would be necessary for an extension.
Meanwhile, he said claims that the epidemic was over in China were false, explaining that the country had only passed the peak of the outbreak. Noting that it took 5-6 months for the outbreak to peak in China, he argued that the number of coronavirus cases in Europe would continue rising for months to come. “We can’t escape the virus,” he said, adding that the conditions of the Covid-19 patients in Hungary could yet worsen. “Because there are no drugs to counter the virus, all we can do is prevent it from spreading,” the prime minister said, noting that this was the reason why a strict response was necessary.
Orbán thanked the nurses, doctors and disease control experts dealing with the virus. He said the government was capable of mobilising the necessary number of health professionals to counter the virus, adding that though there was no shortage of the required medical equipment, he had ordered the procurement of spare supplies. He said Hungary was on the right track in its response to the outbreak. “We’ve faced many crisis situations and in times like these the people of Hungary stick together,” he said. “They perform exceptionally in times of trouble and have what it takes to work together to contain the virus.” Hungary is also in close contact with other countries in the region, Orbán said, adding that the most important thing was for the various countries to share their experiences with the virus with each other.
Concerning the closure of universities, Orbán said the government had decided to close campuses because of the “tens of thousands” of foreign nationals studying there. He added that because foreign students could not be separated from Hungarian students, it seemed reasonable to close campuses. The prime minister said the government had opted against closing schools because children are less at risk of infection or if they do get infected, they tend to recover without getting sick. He added that the government would reconsider its decision if the situation changed. “What matters is that the elderly should interact with as few people as possible,” Orbán said. He added that school closures would mean the end of the school year, forcing teachers to go on leave without pay.
Orbán said the primary goal was to keep the number of cases and fatalities to a minimum, adding that the government was already “making plans for tomorrow and the day after”.