Coronavirus: Hungary is not planning to ease restrictions just yet

2020.04.16. 12:46

At the Hungarian government's weekly press conference on Thursday, Minister of the Prime Minister's Office Gergely Gulyás announced that the government extended the stay-at-home order introduced at the end of March.

Municipalities once again get to introduce stricter measures for the weekend period.

The stay-at-home order went into effect on 28 March and was supposed to end on 11 April but the government decided to maintain it indefinitely, revising it every week. The Minister also announced that high school final exams will still happen in May, although only in writing, see our article on that here.

The government also made a number of decisions concerning the economy, for instance, the deadlines of filing tax returns and financial reports were pushed back to 30 September, VAT of new housing units built in rust-belts was reduced to 5%, tourism tax was lifted until the end of the year, and the tax authority will be more lenient with defaulting clients.

About the emptying of hospital beds, Gulyás said that these are happening in accordance with strict medical protocols, but the government "cannot afford to not have enough hospital beds" in case the epidemic speeds up. After citing international examples, the Minister stated that "the number of hospital beds to be freed up was determined by experts, not politicians," adding later that:

"It is an illusion that it is not necessary to free up beds before the epidemic breaks loose; you cannot go through with these changes in a single day."

There is a lot of uncertainty about the peak of the epidemic in Hungary, Gulyás said, adding that one thing is sure:

It is still going to last months, not weeks, as even where the number of active cases goes down, it keeps picking up again.

The Minister said that the government would, of course, be happy to see COVID-19 peak as early as May, and that possibility seems to be more probable now. Responding to a question from the press Gulyás said that the number of infected healthcare workers is somewhere between 150 and 200.

Hungary is constantly monitoring how other countries are responding to the pandemic, with special regard to Austria, and even though there the lifting of the restrictions is already on the table, this is not the case here, Gulyás explained. He added that he "only wishes" that Budapest mayor Gergely Karácsony is right in saying that by the middle of May, lifting restrictions could be considered, but for now, this is "guesswork."

The minister said that 2500-3000 ventilators are available in the country, and approximately 500 of these are in use, but the government had placed orders for 15 000 more machines - though added:

"In the current situation on the market, there are no guarantees that these would, in fact, be delivered, and that they would function properly if they were."

Gulyás said that the machines are constantly arriving, and the government wants to "over-insure" the system to avoid a shortage in an eventual stage of mass infections.

Hungary suffers 200 billion Forints worth of GDP-losses every week because of the pandemic,

Gulyás said, promising to give detailed information next week about the rising unemployment prompted by the crisis. 

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