The conditions necessary for the containment of the coronavirus epidemic are guaranteed, the Minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office stated at the Friday ‘Governmentinfo’ press conference.

Gergely Gulyás said hospital beds, ventilators, face masks, gloves and all other equipment are available in sufficient numbers, while earlier a mobile hospital was built as well.

He also said the government regards the protection of human lives as the top priority, and while the number of incidences is not the most important indicator, we are doing well also in this department by European standards.

He highlighted that while by Friday the number of new infections had reached a record high again, the number of fatalities had not increased meaningfully. The Minister said in explanation that this might be related to the fact that the virulence of the virus had diminished compared with the spring.

Mr Gulyás also said the evaluation of the results of the national consultation had begun. This, too, shows that the maintenance of normal daily life, the protection of jobs and the continuation of normal education in schools are the top priorities for the people. “Hungary must remain up and running, whilst we must do everything we can to protect human lives,” he pointed out.

Therefore, the goal is not only to protect the health of as many people as possible, but to also maintain the operation, among others, of creches, nursery schools and elementary schools.

He also said the fight against the first wave of the epidemic was successful. In the summer, everyone likewise agreed that the introduction of the virus from abroad poses the greatest threat. This is why they closed the borders, while strict border controls will remain in place in the future as well, he stated.

From among EU Member States, Hungary survived the first wave with minimal possible losses also as regards the number of people in employment, he added. In June, unemployment stood at 4.7 per cent, in contrast to the corresponding EU average of 7.7 per cent. In July, 4,460,000 people were in employment in Hungary.

Mr Gulyás said some HUF 10,000 billion forints are available for the fight against the coronavirus epidemic; much of this has already been spent, but there are still available financial resources for further measures.

He highlighted that so far they had spent HUF 791 billion on the containment of the virus, and more than HUF 2,000 billion on the economy. The introduction of the moratorium on the repayment of credit debts meant the postponement of payment liabilities to the value of HUF 3,000 billion, and two thirds of businesses and more than one half of retail debtors availed themselves of this possibility.

Capital and guarantee programmes account for HUF 2,100 billion, while the growth credit programme of the National Bank of Hungary amounts to HUF 1,500 billion.

Economic data for the first six months of the year are better than the EU average, but as it is the Hungarian economy has sustained a 6.1 per cent recession. Therefore, it is important to boost the economy, to preserve jobs and to maintain cooperation in society which will lay the foundations for a disciplined containment effort and the maintenance of the country’s functioning, he said.

The Minister was asked about the activities of President of the European Stability Initiative Gerald Knaus whom the journalist described as “George Soros’s lobbyist”. According to Mr Gulyás, earlier the government had ideological debates with the organisations sponsored by George Soros. However, in 2015, at the time of the migration crisis, this changed, and the activities of organisations that promote migration pose a national security risk to Hungary.

He added that Gerald Knaus is performing his activities on the international scene in order to discredit the Hungarian government as widely as possible, and these activities are motivated by the fact that the Hungarian government continues to reject migration.

In answer to the question as to whether the government recommends the introduction of working from home to businesses, Mr Gulyás said there is a free market economy in Hungary, and businesses are free to decide on the arrangement in which they wish to organise work.

We do not want anyone to stop production under any circumstances, and are urging everyone to do the opposite. The threat that may arise from the halting of the economy could be substantially greater even than health risks, he stressed.

The Minister drew attention to the need for providing extra protection for the elderly. In his view, based on international statistics, incidences among the elderly could start 4 to 5 weeks after infections among the young, and this could lead to tragic consequences.

He said the elderly “would do well to avoid” going to work, while others would do well to avoid contact with them.

In the context of the coronavirus infections diagnosed at the Kamaraerdő út Elderly Care Home operated by the metropolitan municipality, he said it is to be hoped that there will not be a repeat of the Pesti út elderly care home tragedy, and they are asking the metropolitan municipality to do everything they can to avoid this. He added that the fight against the epidemic is no time for engaging in political disputes; it is the operator’s duty to do everything in the interest of containing the spread of the virus. If the state is able to provide any assistance with this, they will do so, he indicated.

Mr Gulyás agreed with the package proposed by the Fidesz Group in the metropolitan general assembly that would provide HUF 50 billion for the economic victims of the epidemic in Budapest. He said the Hungarian State has spent thousands of billions of forints on the fight against the epidemic and the boosting of the economy.

Budapest, the country’s richest municipality, is “sitting on HUF 100 billion” while the state is required to take out loans and to increase the deficit of the budget for measures that seek to help the economy, he explained. In his view, during this cycle Budapest does not have any debt repayment liabilities either.

In answer to a question, he said closing down the borders in September was a wise decision; the government sealed the borders before the number of infections started rising drastically. We adopted this decision in good time, he stated. He also said since March the protocol for ordering coronavirus tests has not changed.

Gergely Gulyás, the Minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office said in answer to a question that they will decide on the fixing of the official price of coronavirus tests within a few days.

He added that it is necessary to fix a price at which the testing kit can be procured, but one which does not allow for a three-, four- to five-fold profit because at this time, the enforcement of the right to health must take precedence over the enforcement of business criteria. In answer to another question, the Minister confirmed he is certain that the price will be below HUF 30,000.

The Minister also confirmed that for the time being state laboratories are able to fulfil the responsibilities related to testing, but they can involve private laboratories, too, should the need arise, there is a protocol for this that was devised back in the spring.

Regarding the availability of free flu vaccines, the Minister said the procurement of vaccines is under way.

In answer to a question, Mr Gulyás said he agrees with the underlying intentions of Mayor of Budapest Gergely Karácsony who is planning to tighten the rules relating to the wearing of face masks by enabling the municipal premises authority to impose fines as high as HUF 50,000 if a person fails to put a face mask on despite a warning.

He stated in response to another question that the current number of patients requiring hospitalisation due to coronavirus infection does not warrant the postponement of operations and other interventions.

In answer to a question, he said the necessary protective equipment is available, the state has reserves, including of face masks, which are enough for weeks even if the country does not buy a single new one. Similar to other European countries, they are considering lowering the period of quarantine from 14 days to 10 days, he said.

He suggested to the Klebelsberg Centre responsible for overseeing the school districts that operate schools that they should test teachers who came into contact with infected students and are therefore required to retire to quarantine for two weeks. Having two negative tests is also cheaper for the State, he said.

In answer to the question as to whether hunters are allowed to enter Hungary and whether their activities qualify as business activities, the Minister said the National Police Constabulary does not regard travel of this kind as business travel.

Mr Gulyás was asked several questions about the University of Theatre and Film Arts, in answer to which he pointed out that the essence of the reform of higher education is that the government is withdrawing from this sector, and so the cabinet has nothing to do with the dispute that has developed.

We are spectators, not active participants of these events, he indicated. At the same time, he expressed hope that a dialogue could finally start between the board of trustees and the demonstrating students, and the academic year, too, could start. This is in everyone’s best interests, except for those who want to create political hysteria in Hungary and around the world, he said.

According to the Minister, all members of the board of trustees are excellent experts well-respected in their own fields, while the head of the board of trustees is one of the country’s best directors, Attila Vidnyánszky. Therefore, they must be given a chance at least in the first year to prove that they are well-equipped to oversee the operation of the university.

In answer to a question regarding the 2019 annual report of the European Anti-Fraud Office OLAF about whether the Minister agrees with the findings relating to Hungary, Mr Gulyás said the findings concern around three per cent of grants. They would like to clear up any disputes with OLAF professionally, via amicable means, he stressed. He observed that the practices of a great many EU Member States are the same as those of Hungary, and yet, OLAF raises no objections in their cases.

Mr Gulyás highlighted in response to a question about the economy’s performance in the third quarter that the situation is diverse as reflected by data. While the development of retail sales and investments gives rise to optimism, there are areas where the restarting of the economy continues to remain difficult.

The Kovács Katalin Kayak-Canoe Centre earlier planned to be constructed at Hajógyári-sziget will be realised near Sukoró, at Lake Velence, he said.

In answer to a question related to detente between Kosovo and Serbia, Mr Gulyás took the view that the EU’s common external policy rests on extremely weak foundations, which is partially owing to the fact that the EU is bad at identifying goals. The EU itself could have taken steps to facilitate detente between Kosovo and Serbia, and yet, American diplomacy took the initiative in this regard, the Minister observed, adding that in his view the EU engaged in minimal activity in this area until Olivér Várhelyi was appointed as commissioner for enlargement.

(Prime Minister's Office/MTI)