From 1 October, the government has extended the border closure by another month, the Minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office said at a press conference held on Thursday in Budapest.

Gergely Gulyás stressed that members of the public are required to continue to observe the rules adopted so far. He said wearing face masks is key. He added that body temperature checking in schools had started, the visiting bans were being maintained in hospitals and elderly care homes, and the vaccine against the flu would be made available shortly.

The Minister said in conclusion that “the second wave of the coronavirus epidemic is here with us,” the drastic rise in the number of infections experienced at the beginning of September has stopped in Hungary, and numbers have stagnated for some time now between 600 and 1,000.

Fotó: MTI/Illyés Tibor

He added that looking at the numbers in Europe, Hungary is in the middle ranks in terms of number of infections, and continues to remain among the best in Europe as regards the number of fatalities. He said every human life must be protected with any means necessary, and the required conditions and hospital capacities are available.

Mr Gulyás said the reproduction rate of the virus – meaning the number of persons infected by an infected person – must be around one. He observed that according to the latest data, this rate is around one now. He said the goal of the government – which is also confirmed by the national consultation and the latest economic data – is to ensure that the country continue to remain up and running.

He said employment is again above 4.5 million, and the latest data only falls 20,000 short of the highest employment figure ever recorded. In our view, this is the greatest achievement of the fight against the virus in the field of the economy, he stressed, adding that the protection of jobs continues to remain a priority as businesses are in trouble in many areas.

He said in summary that we have managed to protect jobs, and at present the government appears to be able to keep its promise to create as many jobs as were destroyed by the virus. He also confirmed that this year the performance of the Hungarian economy will decrease, but it will be better than the European Union’s average. He further observed that the government had contributed to the preservation of some 1.4 million jobs with various programmes.

Fotó: MTI/Illyés Tibor

Mr Gulyás stressed that it is irresponsible to connect together the debate on the rule of law and the recovery fund necessary due to the coronavirus epidemic as it jeopardises the swift disbursement of funds. The Minister highlighted that the agreement concluded by Member States in the summer regarding the recovery fund serves Europe’s best interests, and while Hungary did not agree with the concept of collective borrowing, they supported the scheme out of solidarity with the Southern Member States in order to offer them meaningful and swift assistance.

Regarding the European Commission’s rule of law report, he said the document evidently applies double standards as it is not about the “rule of law” but about the “rule of blackmail,” meaning instead of the rule of law it is about the right to blackmail.

The competent commissioner made grossly insulting statements about Hungary, and the EU cannot have a leader who speaks about any Member State and its citizens disrespectfully.

He added that it also testifies to double standards that if the commissioner had spoken in such a tone about French or German citizens, she would surely no longer be a member of the Commission. However, it seems that she is free to insult Hungarian citizens without consequences.

The Minister recalled that the Prime Minister had turned to the President of the Commission in the case and indicated that Hungary is not prepared to engage in any bilateral talks with the commissioner. He said Vera Jourová is a persona non grata for the Hungarian government.

He observed that it is quite telling as regards the report that it features 12 outside references, 11 of which originate from organisations sponsored by George Soros. He said it would be best to avoid irresponsible debates and to implement the agreement on the recovery fund, but should this fall through, it is also possible to provide assistance on an intergovernmental basis. If there are some who continue to believe that the functioning of the fund can be foiled with reference to the rule of law, we must look for another solution, he said.

Mr Gulyás said one of the commissioner’s most serious statements is that the citizens of Hungary are not in a position to form an independent opinion. With this, the commissioner violated the rule of the Treaty of Lisbon relating to neutrality towards Member States which is a serious enough breach in order for her not to be allowed to remain in her office, he said.

Mr Gulyás also informed the press that an agreement had been reached regarding a budget of three billion forints for the University of Theatre and Film Arts for next year; this was the sum requested by the board of trustees who have the authority to decide on what to spend it on. This amount is more than double the institution’s budget at present. The government only has one option in the case of universities operated by foundations, and that is to make the necessary funds available. They have done that, he explained.

He confirmed that the government has maximum faith in the board of trustees, and takes seriously the rule laid down in a law that in the future it is not for the government to supervise institutions of higher education operated by foundations.

Government Spokesperson Alexandra Szentkirályi spoke about the vaccine against the flu with which the government would like to enhance the fight against the coronavirus epidemic. She said the two diseases have very similar symptoms, and it could help with setting up a diagnosis if someone is vaccinated against the flu.

She recalled that this year the government is making vaccination against the flu free for everyone. She said in preparation for the flu season, from calendar week 40 a flu monitoring service will be set up, while the National Centre for Public Health will take care of the distribution and delivery of the 1.3 million flu vaccines available for this season.

Ms. Szentkirályi added that this is how many vaccines are available in every flu season, and some sixty per cent of that quantity is actually administered.

Traditionally, persons over the age of 3 who fall into different risk categories have access to the vaccine free of charge. This year, persons falling into these groups are especially recommended to have themselves vaccinated, but everyone will have access to the vaccine free of charge, she detailed. She observed that those over the age of 60 and suffering from underlying diseases fall into risk groups.

Ms. Szentkirályi said the detailed rules are currently being developed; however, there are sufficient laboratory capacities. She said, as expected, patients can contact physicians for vaccination from the second half of October. She said the flu vaccine had already been administered to more than 39,000 health care workers and 8,900 workers working in social institutions.

Government Spokesperson Alexandra Szentkirályi further reported that body temperature checking was also compulsory in nursery schools; the government has made the necessary equipment available. Thermal imaging temperature detector gates are also available for institutions where minimum 400 students pass through a single entrance. There are some 120 schools where this is the case throughout the country.

The Minister was asked to comment regarding the fact that in a video message the leader of Momentum campaigned ahead of the municipal elections in Romania for the candidates of his party’s sister party, not for those of Hungarian parties. According to Mr Gulyás, this is proof of the fact that the Hungarian Left believes that they should support Romanians against Hungarians, “or that – and this is even more alarming – the Romanians are better-equipped to represent the interests of the Hungarian national community, or better still that those interests count for nothing as far as they are concerned”. In his view, it would be justified to use the term ‘treason’ in this case.

The government regards the initiative of the Hungarian Chamber of Doctors as a basis for negotiations; this proposes, among others, a 120 per cent pay rise, and if this is achieved, the criminalisation of gratuities, Mr Gulyás said. The cabinet has not adopted a decision yet; however, the Minister of Human Capacities and the head of the Operational Group will have talks with senior representatives of the chamber.

Regarding the rate of the possible pay rise, the Minister said the government is open to accepting a percentage close to that suggested by the chamber, meaning a significant pay rise. This would result in expenditures in the magnitude of hundreds of billions of forints, he added.

In response to statements made by former Borsod County government appointee Ervin Demeter on 20 August, the Minister said he greatly appreciates Ervin Demeter’s career in public life. However, what he said is beneath him; those statements are untrue and unfounded.

In light of this, there is no doubt about the justified nature of his removal, he said. He observed that so far it had not been customary to attack someone because of their family members, and the attacks on new government appointee Zoltán Alakszai are also unfounded and undignified.

The Minister also said the agenda of the Council of Metropolitan Public Developments to be held on 15 October is still being compiled, but the government would discuss the ever-multiplying traffic jams in the city, the refurbishment of the Chain Bridge, the deteriorating situation of hygiene in public places and the repeated appearance of ever more homeless people in the streets. In answer to a question, he said preparations regarding the South Buda Central Hospital are making good progress.

The Minister said the metropolitan municipality had tabled a proposal for the amendment of the planning regulations of Városliget; however, before doing so, they should have initiated consultations as there is a forum for that between the capital and the government. Regarding the Biodome, he said “we are rooting for the capital,” it would be good if it opened for visiting within the shortest possible time as this would also be a major tourism attraction, he pointed out. He mentioned next that the relevant regulations allow students to also postpone the autumn final examinations after the postponement of the spring ones.

In answer to a question, Mr Gulyás pointed out that the EU had been established by countries which are friends and allies, the European Commission must play a neutral role free from politics, and Member States must respect one another.

He said he does not know what the accusation is based on that Hungary interfered in the municipal elections in Romania as it had never before kept such a distance from the elections as it did on this occasion.

In answer to a question relating to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the Minister said in the case of all such conflicts, the Hungarian government supports a peaceful resolution, and continues to regard territorial integrity as important; this is so also in this instance.

He observed that if Donald Trump does not win the US elections, “that is bad news for us,” and also for Central Europe. He also said that the government has not yet decided on the pay rise of public works scheme participants. There will be a proposal on the matter, but no specific decision has been taken yet.

In answer to a question about the possible date for reinstating the spring restrictions, the Minister said if people observe the current rules – in this regard, there has been a positive change in the past two weeks – case numbers will not rise, and the number of coronavirus patients requiring hospitalisation could also stagnate.

At this time, the health care system is capable of taking care of everyone without changes, he said, adding that if necessary, elective interventions can be postponed, but at this point in time, there is no need for that, and based on the worst-case scenario, there will be no need for any such measures until mid-October.

In answer to a question, Mr Gulyás indicated that the government will review the fifty-point crisis management package of the National Bank of Hungary which has elements – he mentioned family policy elements as an example – that the government agrees with, though their implementation depends on the country’s burden bearing capacity. He indicated that Minister of Family Affairs Katalin Novák is working on an overarching family protection plan.

He also said the government regards a five per cent economic decline as realistic in 2020.

In answer to another question, he also highlighted that EU Commissioner Vera Jourová’s statements do not in any way affect Hungarian-Czech relations. The Minister was asked about a statement made by Katarina Barley, one of the Vice Presidents of the European Parliament. In reply, Mr Gulyás said the statement is shocking, but Katarina Barley is not a member of the European Commission, she is a political actor, and so the requirement of neutrality does not apply to her as it does to EU commissioners.

In his view, if the Polish hear from a German politician that they want to starve them that could evoke unpleasant memories from history. It clearly demonstrates the EP Vice President’s approach to totalitarian regimes that a few years ago she laid a wreath at a statue of Marx who introduced political anti-Semitism into public life, he said. He observed that this is the kind of arrogance that characterises the German social democrats.

He said in the near future they will open the Kiskunhalas epidemic hospital. Regarding the new EU climate targets, he said the government finds it absurd that some countries want to tighten the rules without first adhering to their undertakings for 2030.

(Prime Minister’s Office / MTI)