The conditions for getting the country up and running again are there but protection measures must not be stopped, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in a radio interview. He noted that two weeks ago restrictions were eased in the provinces. Now Pest County is joining the rest of the country, he added. Budapest, however, “is the big question”, Orbán told public broadcaster Kossuth Radio, noting that the highest number of registered infections and fatalities have taken place in the capital. The prime minister insisted that if “bad decisions” are made in Budapest they are hardest to “correct” here. Orbán said at the same time that the number of registered infections was declining and the conditions for restarting life were also in place in Budapest. “But everyone must behave responsibly,” he said.
The PM said he will consult non-government experts on Saturday morning before deciding in the afternoon on which steps should be taken in Budapest. He said the current temporary arrangements in crèches and kindergartens must be changed so that parents can leave their children at their usual places. An agreement is necessary with local mayors on this because the majority of crèches and kindergartens are managed by local municipalities, he added. Only after this issue is settled will it be possible to deal with schools, he said.
Commenting on the reopening of schools, he said it was impossible to say whether this was on the cards this year. “Things can change in a matter of days,” he said, adding that it was necessary to stay alert. “Children most probably won’t have problems but they could take the infection home, so caution is needed,” he added.
Orbán said Budapest was two weeks behind the rest of the country. If everyone acts responsibly, then it will be possible to move to the second phase of protective measures, he said.
Commenting on an elderly care home in Pesti Road in Budapest, he said the city’s mayor, Gergely Karácsony, would “write an excellent paper” on what happened there, “but in the meantime more than forty people have died”. “Had the mayor been [Karácsony’s predecessor] István Tarlós, he would have gone there and taken control personally”, Orbán said, adding that he asked all mayors to take responsibility on practical matters.
Meanwhile, Orbán noted that industrial production fell dramatically in March throughout Europe and tourism “disappeared”. Tourism is important in Hungary but industrial production more so, he added. Industrial production fell by 12% in the whole of the EU compared with 10% in Hungary, showing that “so far, we have been better at overcoming obstacles”.
Orbán said the figures for April would be “awful”, but there was reason for hope for May and fast progress could be made from June to return to the earlier path of growth. Some see the drop in economic growth as the greatest problem, he said. But the loss of jobs is the number-one issue, he added. “Hungary must be able to create new jobs to replace those wiped out by the epidemic,” he said. He noted that the government’s fostered work scheme was ready to hire 100,000 people and that the military was also awaiting young new recruits.
Orbán said Hungary has won the “first battle” by slowing the spread of the virus. The second battle, he said, would be about saving jobs, adding that this, too, would be won. The government will also reintroduce the earlier system of granting a 13th month’s pension to seniors, in spite of the crisis, the prime minister said.
On another subject, Orbán said Hungary expected European Union institutions to “help, not hinder our efforts”. “We are in the middle of a pandemic, with around 150,000 deaths in Europe,” he said. Hungary is among the countries with the most successful protective measures. “When real European cooperation is needed it’s worrying that Brussels bureaucrats who we pay for … are busy slamming us for sport,” he said, adding that they should be involved in seeing to more important matters instead.
Commenting on Thursday’s European Court of Justice ruling against Hungary in connection with its transit zone, he said migration continued to shape European policies and Brussels’ decisions. “They’re trying to force member states, against their will, into letting migrants in”. “But they won’t manage to dribble the ball past us,” he added. If the European Court decision goes against Hungary’s constitution, priority must be given to the constitution, he said.
Concerning a recent decision by the Kúria, Hungary’s supreme court, to uphold a decision by the Debrecen appeals court to award compensation to Roma children who were segregated at school in Gyöngyöspata, in northern Hungary, Orbán said that though the time period in question fell under the tenure of the previous Socialist government “the matter is … one of principle”. The government wants people to feel at home in Hungary and their own municipality, he said. “It can’t be that just so the minority feel at home, the mainstream mustn’t have to feel like strangers in their own homeland,” Orbán said. He suggested that the case had been triggered by organisations linked to US financier George Soros. Orbán said the case was “about making money” but was also “an attack on the majority”. The prime minister called the Kúria’s ruling “unfair”, saying that it was hard to see any justice for Gyöngyöspata in the decision, “but we’ll look for it”. Orbán underlined the need for legislative changes that would prevent such a case from reoccurring.