The government has authorised the foreign minister to conclude bilateral agreements on the mutual recognition of Covid-19 immunity certificates, Gergely Gulyás, the prime minister’s chief of staff, told a news briefing. Hungary will seek to conclude a bilateral agreement with every country that is open to entering into such an agreement, he said. Under a prospective agreement, a holder of a Hungarian immunity certificate would be entitled to the same benefits as a certificate-holder of the partner country, Gulyás said, adding that Hungary, too, would recognise the partner country’s immunity certificate. The government is also planning to amend the penal code, making forging immunity certificates and presenting them a serious offence, Gulyás said. Service providers could also face serious consequences if they fail to ask customers to present their certificates, with fines from 100,000 forints (EUR 280) to 1 million forints and even imprisonment possibilities, he added. Restrictions concerning family and private events will stay in force, the minister said, adding that wedding feasts would again be allowed once the number of inoculated Hungarians reaches 5 million; possibly by the third weekend of May. Mask-wearing continues to be mandatory in public areas, in shops and on public transport, and restrictions on assembly will also stay in effect until vaccinations reach a viable threshold. Those who have not yet received their shots may get vaccinated in short order and receive an immunity certificate, he said.
Concerning vaccine-related information the government recently published, Gulyás said the figures showed that “every vaccine is effective and there are no great differences between them: all reduce the risk of infection to a minimum.”
“The proportion of people who get sick among the inoculated is 0.4 %,” he said, adding: “It’s not worth trusting the left’s anti-vax campaign.” The government will establish clear rules of procedure for issuing immunity certificates for those who have not received one, which the prime minister will outline in his public radio interview on Friday, Gulyás said. He said government offices had received several complaints in connection with the certificates. Given that more than 4.5 million people are now eligible for the document and with their issuance being “the biggest logistical operation of the past decades”, there were bound to be technical difficulties around them, he said. The government will do everything in its power to issue all missing certificates, he added.
Meanwhile, he said the cabinet had discussed the EU’s post-pandemic recovery fund, adding that Hungary would soon have access to its share of the funds. Hungary, he said, was fortunate enough to be nearing the end of the pandemic.
The EU funds consist of both non-refundable grants and credit tied to specific projects, Gulyás noted. While Hungary will draw down the entirety of the grant money it is entitled to, the government believes that it is best to manage the crisis with as little debt as possible, he added. Hungary has managed to “survive the crisis” with a public debt level of around 80%, Gulyás said, adding that the aim was to keep this figure as low as possible. He said most member states were of a similar mindset, noting that 21 of them had yet to say whether they would take up a loan. Talks on the matter were progressing well, he said, adding that Hungary would be among the first member states to submit its recovery and resilience plan to the European Commission. The commission, he said, recognised Hungary’s recent health-care reform that included a significant pay rise for doctors. The government has asked the EC for some 300 billion forints of support to cover part of the costs of the reform for a period of one year, Gulyás said. Discussions in the matter are still ongoing, but the EC president is open to the request and agrees with the direction of the changes Hungary has made, he added.
Answering questions, he said that once Hungary passes 4 million vaccinations, those entering the country with immunity certificates would no longer be required to quarantine. Asked why it was enough for Hungarian spectators of the postponed Euro 2020 soccer Championship matches to present immunity certificates while foreigners had to present negative PCR tests, Gulyás explained that while everyone in Hungary had a chance to get vaccinated by June, this was not the case in western Europe. As regards the 2022 draft budget, Gulyás said that thanks to the Covid vaccine, the degree of uncertainty around its planning had been “significantly lower” that with last year’s budget. “We trust that by late May or early June, the pandemic will be over, or at least it won’t disrupt the country’s return to normalcy,” he said. He said there was nothing standing in the way of approving next year’s budget, noting that the Fiscal Council had found that it was sufficient to reduce the public debt.
Asked about a joint statement adopted by the prime ministers of the Visegrad Group countries expressing their solidarity with the Czech Republic, which recently expelled Russian diplomats over suspicions of espionage, Gulyás said the document “reflects our joint opinion and we all agree with it”. In response to another question on the same topic, he said Hungary’s intelligence services had a duty to protect the country’s interests from anyone conducting intelligence operations on its territory “regardless of whether or not they’re an ally”.