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Hungary introduces special legal order due to coronavirus

D KOS20200311010
2020.03.11. 14:09

Hungary declared a state of emergency in the entire country due to the coronavirus, Minister of the Prime Minister's Office Gergely Gulyás announced at the daily press conference of the Hungarian government's coronavirus task force. The Minister said that the move is necessary to avoid community spread of the virus.

The state of emergency (technically, a "state of danger") is a so-called special legal order defined in the Fundamental Law of Hungary which allows the government to introduce a number of extraordinary measures by decree and suspend the application of certain laws in order to mitigate a natural or industrial disaster. Extraordinary decrees issued during this state of emergency remain in effect for fifteen days unless Parliament extends them.

The special legal order allows the government to halt air traffic or public transportation, order quarantines in certain areas (or even evacuations), restrict usage of public spaces, or even prescribe civil defence obligations or draw companies under temporary state control. (Once again, these are measures permitted by the state of emergency, not measures that were announced). Once the state of emergency ends, the specially authorised government decrees lose their effect as well.

Extraordinary measures announced by Gulyás:

  • No entry into Hungary allowed from Italy, China, South Korea, and Iran, except for Hungarian citizens who will automatically be ordered to self-isolate. All air traffic, trains, and buses coming from these countries will be shut down beginning from midnight,
  • Checks will be reinstated at the Slovenian and Austrian border as well,
  • False statements concerning the virus will be sanctioned, just like the violation of quarantine orders,
  • Universities will be shut, only remote classes are allowed,
  • Outdoors public events of over 500 people and indoors public events of over 100 people banned - this does not apply to factories, workplaces, and malls, but does apply to clubs, cinemas, and theatres, football games will be played behind closed gates. Parliament will remain operational.
  • No school trips abroad are allowed, and the recently announced free two-week language courses abroad for Hungarian students will take place a year later.
  • More measures will be announced later.

The Minister said children do not typically catch Covid-19, therefore it is unnecessary to close schools at this point, adding that only 15 EU member states closed schools - as soon as children are affected, new measures may be announced. Gulyás said that these measures will be in effect until they are revoked, which may take weeks or months.

Answering questions from the press, Gulyás informed about the following:

  • Concerning the entry ban, special regulations about foreign spouses of Hungarian citizens may be introduced.
  • Ministers and state secretaries will need special permission to travel abroad,
  • The government is not planning to lock down Budapest or any other major cities,
  • Transportation of goods will not be affected by these measures,
  • Self-isolation orders may be enforced by police,
  • There are 37 laboratories in Hungary performing tests for Covid-19, the government deems that number sufficient based on WHO guidelines.
  • The Minister urged people to work from home if they can.

Earlier on Wednesday morning, Gulyás told public media that the coronavirus response has to be taken to the next level in order to avoid community spread of the virus, which is why the coronavirus task force recommended the government to declare a state of emergency.

Gulyás said that the state of emergency makes it possible, if necessary, to order house quarantines and to close the borders - in agreement with Austria - before people arriving from Italy. Hungarians could of course return to the country in such a situation, but they would automatically be quarantined, Gulyás explained.

This special legal order had been employed before, he added, but only in areas affected by severe floods, never in the entire country.

According to the latest update (10:31 AM) of the government coronavirus website,

IN HUNGARY, 13 PEOPLE ARE INFECTED, 69 ARE IN QUARANTINE, AND 609 SAMPLES WERE TAKEN FOR TESTING.

Confirmed cases in Hungary until now:

  • Hungary announced the first two cases in the country on Wednesday, two Iranian university students studying in Budapest and Gödöllő were infected on their (independent) trips to Iran.
  • Two more confirmed cases were announced on Thursday, one is a 69-year-old British man living in Debrecen who returned from Milan by plane last Friday, the other is the girlfriend of one of the Iranian students.
  • fifth case was announced on Saturday morning, a 70-year-old Hungarian man in poor health tested positive. The sixth patient is the wife of the British patient diagnosed on Thursday. 
  • The seventh person to test positive was another Iranian student who attended a birthday party with one of the first two confirmed coronavirus patients.
  • Two more cases were announced on Monday morning - a former Iranian student of Semmelweis University and the wife of the 70-year-old Hungarian man diagnosed on Saturday.
  • Three other Iranian students of the Semmelweis University tested positive on Tuesday.
  • A thirteenth case was announced on Wednesday morning, a Hungarian woman already quarantined as a contact of the British patient.

Hospitals in Hungary no longer accept visitors as of Sunday, schools are advised to postpone class trips, doctors and medical staff are requested not to travel abroad. On Monday, the government has allocated more than 8 billion Forints (~€24 million) for the coronavirus response.

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On Friday, Hungary suspended issuing Visas to citizens of Iran due to the coronavirus outbreak in the country, on Monday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided to deny entry into the country for Iranian citizens with valid visas as well - this does not affect those who are already in Hungary. 
Earlier, the government suspended access to the transit zones on the southern border where asylum-seekers could apply for refugee status.

On Saturday, the Hungarian government cancelled their main event on the March 15th national holiday. The City of Budapest and the opposition parties soon followed suit. 

Quarantined foreign students complain that they are held together with 2-5 other, potentially infected people and they want to self-isolate in their homes. Two Iranian students first resisted going into quarantine, but police convinced them to take the ambulance to the DPC - authorities warn that disobeying quarantine orders is a crime. On Sunday, the government coronavirus task force announced that police presence was requested at the DPC for fears that Iranian students "might hurt doctors or nurses," and the Chief Medical Officer said that this is the standard procedure for suspected patients all over the world. On Monday, the coronavirus task force informed that they will maintain the police presence as the quarantined students are still non-cooperative. 

The first Hungarian citizen to contract Covid-19 was a man who worked on the cruise ship Diamond Princess was confirmed to have the disease at the end of February, he is still being treated in Japan.

(Cover: Minister Gergely Gulyás announcing the state of emergency on 11 March 2020. Photo:  MTI/Koszticsák Szilárd)

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