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Government to decide about easing Budapest lockdown on Saturday

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2020.05.15. 14:55

As the number of active coronavirus cases declines in Hungary, the government decided to lift the stay-at-home order in Pest county as well after having done so in the rest of the country two weeks ago, but in Budapest, the restrictions will still remain in effect. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán says the government is set to decide about the capital on Saturday afternoon.

In total, there have been 3417 registered coronavirus cases in Hungary (1636 in Budapest), 1287 patients have recovered and 442 have died. The number of active cases has been steadily dropping since hitting the peak of 2054 on 4 May, there are currently 1688 active infections in the country (974 in Budapest), 614 patients are in hospital, 46 of whom are on ventilators.

But these are only the officially registered cases, according to the first results of the nationwide representative screening conducted by four Hungarian medical universities, the number of total infections could be somewhere between 22 000 and 92 000, and they estimate up to 7200 currently active infections. In an interview on ATV, Béla Merkely, the rector of Semmelweis University remarked that thanks to a well-disciplined population, the number of contacts has dropped, bringing the reproduction rate of the virus down so much that the epidemic in Hungary is practically over, but the danger of another outbreak still lingers, so people should keep wearing masks.

Pest county to re-open

At the government's weekly press conference on Thursday, Minister of the Prime Minister's Office Gergely Gulyás announced that

IN PEST COUNTY, the stay-at-home order will be lifted on Monday,

and the same rules would apply there as in the rest of the country, which will also be relaxed. From Monday, outside Budapest,

  • restaurants, cafés, confectioneries will be allowed to provide service indoors as well, but staff will have to wear masks and a proper distance will have to be kept,
  • parks and playgrounds will reopen,
  • hotels can restart operation,
  • and weddings with fewer than 200 guests will also be allowed.

Wearing face masks in stores and on public transportation will continue to be mandatory in the entire country, just like keeping a 1.5-metre distance from others in public at all times. Gulyás also said that education in schools will continue remotely until at least 2 June.

Budapest still has to wait

The government originally promised a decision about the restrictions in Budapest by Wednesday, however, Gulyás said that they postponed settling the question as they asked the mayors in Budapest for their opinions which were due to arrive until Thursday. 

Budapest accounts for nearly half of the total and 57% of the active registered cases in the country, but responding to Gulyás on Thursday, Budapest mayor Gergely Karácsony remarked that as opposed to government communication, the bulk of the infections in the city started in hospitals and spread to retirement homes, and not amongst the general populace. In his plan to reopen the city, Karácsony suggested the government to continue mass testing with full disclosure of the data, allow employees to go on sick leave with the slightest of symptoms, and require testing before someone is discharged from hospital.

During his Friday morning radio interview on public media, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said that the government will decide about Budapest on Saturday afternoon, as

"the conditions to relaunch life in the capital are there, but we have to act responsibly."

The government will hear epidemiologists and scientists about the Budapest situation that morning before relaxing the preventive measures, Orbán said that the capital will likely follow the schedule the rest of the country is on with approximately two weeks of delay. 

(Cover: János Bődey / Index)

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