The government is introducing a special legal order and a state of danger with a view to preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus infection, Gergely Gulyás, the Minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office announced on Wednesday in Budapest.

Mr Gulyás said, based on the recommendation of the Minister of Interior and the Operational Corps, the government has decided to impose a ban on entry for nationals arriving from Italy, China, South Korea and Iran.

Hungarian citizens returning from these countries are exceptions to this rule; however, upon their return they will be quarantined with immediate effect, he said, adding that the decision of the authority will prohibit the individuals concerned from leaving their homes for two weeks.

To this end, border controls will have to be reinstated at the Schengen borders at Slovenia and Austria; this will be implemented within the shortest possible time. Trains, buses and aircraft originating from these countries will not be allowed to enter the country, only Hungarian nationals will be granted entry, Mr Gulyás added.

As expected, comprehensive border controls will be introduced at the Hungarian-Croatian border as well, he said.

In answer to a question, he indicated that this would take place by midnight, at the latest.

He informed members of the press that the government is banning the organisation of indoor events with an audience of more than 100 persons and outdoor events with an audience of more than 500 persons. In the case of these events, it is the organisers’ responsibility to cancel them.

He also pointed out that expired personal documents need not be renewed until the end of the state of national crisis.

Any decisions will remain in force until revoked, the Minister laid down, indicating that in the next few days and hours, government decrees will be released which will clearly establish all the details.

He said the introduction of a state of danger which has been unprecedented since the fall of communism grants state authorities the widest range of powers in the interest of the containment of the virus. He recalled that the constitutional regulation of a state of national crisis and emergency is clear, while the law on disaster management contains the detailed rules.

Mr Gulyás said they are imposing a ban on attendance at universities throughout Hungary.

From now on, university education can only be conducted in the form of distance education, and university buildings will be closed down, he added.

He said in answer to a question that as expected universities will be closed from Thursday, or Monday, at the latest.

The Minister highlighted that there are a very large number of foreign students at universities, 9 of the 13 patients diagnosed with the virus in Hungary are foreign, meaning that the threat of developing the disease as well as the threat of passing it on are substantially higher among them.

At the moment, there is a consensus in Europe that the disease does not typically occur in children, Mr Gulyás stressed, adding that the government is continuously monitoring the situation, and if necessary for life and health protection reasons, it will take action. However, at this point in time, they see no need for closing down schools.

This would result in the repeat and invalidation of an entire school year, the Minister observed.

They are suspending the study trip programme ‘Without Borders’, are banning school trips abroad, and are deferring the introduction of the two-week summer foreign language learning courses for students by a year, the Minister announced outlining the government’s decisions.

Mr Gulyás also said making false statements carries sanctions, as does the violation of the quarantine decision. He observed that it is possible to check where passengers arrived from via the cell tower information of mobile phones.

He stressed that the right order is to first concentrate on the preservation of human life and health, and economic losses can only come second.

At the same time, the epidemic will inevitably have significant economic consequences. The majority of countries are struggling to avoid recession, and Hungary has the best chance of achieving that, he said.

In answer to a question, he said in the case of those who left the country in the past few days and have problems returning, it is the duty of the Hungarian foreign representations to assess needs, and the Operational Corps or the government will decide regarding any extraordinary measures that may be necessary to help them.

He said in the case of passengers returning by plane, the information about where their journeys originated from is available, while in other cases, at border crossing points entrants are required to state whether they have been to Italy.

If someone fails to tell the truth, it will have consequences under criminal law, he pointed out.

He observed that these measures will not affect goods traffic.

In answer to another journalist’s question, Mr Gulyás said the Operational Corps and the Ministry of Interior have done a great deal to uncover all contacts of the infected students; this involves a vast amount of work. Regarding the related tests, he highlighted that there is a WHO protocol, and they are conducting the tests in accordance with that protocol. The present laboratory capacity appears to be sufficient, but today there is no way of knowing how many laboratory tests will have to be carried out.

If necessary, further steps can be taken to increase the available capacity, he explained.

He pointed out that against the requirement of proportionality, if necessary, the government can take over production lines necessary, for instance, for public health reasons.

The Minister also told the press that they are consulting with churches about the organisation of church services.

He said if they experience any malpractices related to prices, the authorities will launch an investigation.

Regarding the official travels of cabinet members, he highlighted that European diplomatic activities will be limited during the period ahead.

Ministers can decide about their own travels; however, any travel abroad for ministry personnel below the rank of minister will be subject to the minister’s permission, he added.

The ban on indoor activities with the attendance of more than one hundred persons does not apply to Parliament as it qualifies as a constitutional institution, not as an event, which is in session even in the event of the threat of war or war, Mr Gulyás said.

In answer to a question, he said at this point in time there is no need for any change in the role of general practitioners, and face masks are available for their protection in adequate numbers. He said 60,000 face masks providing special protection are also available which the Operational Corps distributes to hospital personnel who come into contact with infected persons or persons suspected of having contracted the virus.

He observed that, for the time being, Germany is not exporting the 120,000 special face masks ordered from Hungary at the time of the beginning of the spread of the virus which are currently being stored at the port of Hamburg.

He also highlighted that an adequate number of tests can be carried out in the 37 state laboratories currently in use.

Mr Gulyás said they will try to procure a sufficient quantity of hand sanitiser products. However, at work places where these are not available, simple hand-washing can also do the job of disinfecting.

He stated that theatrical performances and cinema screenings will be cancelled in the future; however, the ban of one hundred persons does not apply to shopping centres.

Nursery schools and creches are operated by local governments, and so it is for local governments to decide on their possible closure. They also recommend to companies with a large work force that they take the necessary measures within their own competence.

The Minister, however, rejected news reports about the closing down of large cities as fake news without any foundation.