Due to the coronavirus epidemic, Hungary’s borders are being closed down to passenger traffic; the relevant international consultations are currently under way. As a result, in the future only Hungarian nationals will be allowed to enter the country’s territory, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced on Monday in Parliament in his address before the start of ordinary business.

From midnight, events will also be banned in general, and sports events can only be held – provided that organisers decide to go ahead – behind closed doors. “It is, however, best if they are not held at all,” the Prime Minister said. They are closing entertainment venues and cinemas, while in the case of cultural institutions, they are introducing a visiting ban. Restaurants, cafes and shops will only be allowed to stay open until 3.00 p.m.; food stores, chemists and pharmacies are the only exceptions.

They suggest, he continued, that other than family events, all get-togethers should be postponed. Regarding the elderly, he said they are particularly at risk from the threat of the epidemic; he is therefore asking them to be especially cautious.

“As far as I can see, the government cannot prohibit the elderly over 70 from leaving their homes […]. I can, however, ask them – even if a general prohibition is not a means in our hands – not to leave their homes,” Mr Orbán said.

Local governments will be required to organise care services for the elderly staying at home and to look after them, he added, asking local governments to invest all their energy primarily in these efforts.

Regarding the grave economic consequences, he said the entire Hungarian economy will be in trouble, but not everyone all at the same time. There are sectors such as tourism, catering and services where trouble “has already knocked on the door”. He asked Minister without Portfolio for the Management of National Assets Andrea Bártfai-Mager to consult with representatives of the sectors in trouble so that they can take swift measures with a view to helping them.

Mr Orbán spoke emphatically about the need to protect jobs, indicating that the country is facing a major unemployment wave. He asked employers and workers to make personal efforts to keep jobs.

He also said the epidemic is likewise overriding the country’s economic and fiscal plans. The budget must be re-planned on every level, the coordination of which will be Finance Minister Mihály Varga’s duty. They will provide guidelines for the re-planning of the budgets of institutions and local governments in the next few days, while the development of measures serving to help the Hungarian economy is in progress.

The Prime Minister further consulted with central bank governor György Matolcsy because monetary means will also be required for the management of the crisis, he said.

Mr Orbán took the view that the management of the epidemic will be a lengthy and difficult process which will require some degree of adaptation on everyone’s part. Life in the coming months will not be the same, it will be different from what we are used to. In the next few months, the most important job will be done by health care workers and law enforcement officers. He thanked them for their efforts so far, asking the people to assist them in their work. He thanked the Hungarian people in general for having received this emergency in a disciplined manner, and for observing the rules.

“Unity and discipline are our most important energy reserves,” he said.

The Prime Minister expects Hungary to proceed in the next few days from the stage of isolated cases to the stage of group incidences. As long as there is no vaccine, our only chance is the containment of the spread of the virus, he highlighted.

The Prime Minister listed the decisions adopted so far: they have declared a special legal order and a state of danger; they have imposed a ban on entry in relation to non-Hungarian nationals from several countries – Hungarians may enter the country, but are required to retire to compulsory home quarantine, and supplying untrue statements regarding the origins of travel and the violation of quarantine regulations result in sanctions; they have prohibited indoor events with an audience of more than 100 persons and outdoor events with an audience of more than 500 persons; expired documents need not be renewed until the end of the state of danger; they have imposed a ban on university attendance; they have prohibited schools trips abroad; they have deferred the summer two-week language courses for students by a year; public education has switched over to distance education; and the construction of a disease control hospital has begun.

Mr Orbán highlighted that the coronavirus had become a global pandemic which is spreading much faster than epidemics known in the past. There is no vaccine, and even if a vaccine is finally developed, it will take several long months because its marketing can start. He said a task force consisting of Hungarian virology specialists is monitoring the research conducted world-wide, and will join these efforts wherever they can.

He also said, according to the information available at present, the virus entered Hungary from Iran, Italy and Israel. There is no global solution to the epidemic, and so every country itself is working out its own containment strategy. This is, however, not a new or unknown situation; it was the same, for instance, with the economic and migration crises and the flood situation, he said.

The Prime Minister further pointed out that, as part of its containment efforts, Hungary is consulting with everyone, above all, with neighbouring countries. There is, at the same time, direct communication with all EU Member States.

However, we ourselves must adopt responsible decisions, he stated.

He described cooperation with Austria as particularly important as it also neighbours Italy, and therefore they are making every effort to transpose the measures adopted in Austria into Hungarian practice.

“We have been in difficult situations many times; quite a few times also in the past ten years. We have learnt that however grave the danger, we have the best chance of conquering it if we unite forces. This is what we must do now. I’m asking everyone to follow the path of common action and national unity in this situation. We need the widest possible national cooperation,” Mr Orbán said.

(Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister/MTI)