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HUF 225 billion spent so far on containment effort

Péter Jakab (Jobbik) told the Prime Minister that Viktor Orbán was at any time capable of ridiculing of the rule of law in Hungary and was ready to humiliate the Hungarian Parliament, and now he had turned his own coronation into law, having voted unlimited power for himself.

He said health care workers are making excruciating efforts, law enforcement workers are doing overtime, people in shops, too, are working hard; meanwhile, the Prime Minister is “busy, racking his brain” trying to find ways to dispense with Parliament. There is no excuse for what the government has done against the Hungarian nation today, he said stating his view.

Mr Orbán highlighted that the Constitution of Hungary had not been changed, and in the Constitution there was still no scope for coronation. There is, however, a state of danger: due to the epidemic, 15 persons have died, including five women and ten men, whose average age was 72 years. There are 447 registered infected persons, including 16 seriously ill, 103 confirmed patients not requiring treatment, and 279 asymptomatic virus carriers, he listed.

In his response, Mr Jakab said eliminating a state of danger requires not unlimited power, but protective supplies and financial assistance for the families now in trouble. The freedom of the Hungarian people has been quarantined, but “we will conquer not only the virus, but also the crown,” he said.

Mr Orbán repeated that they would use the powers necessary for eliminating the state of danger in a proportionate and reasonable manner, and would at the end of the epidemic return all powers to Parliament. Then, critics “will have a chance to apologise,” he added.

Tamás Harangozó (MSZP) asked the Prime Minister as to whether, in possession of their special mandate, they will raise wages in the health care and social services sectors, whether they will bring forward the payment of pension supplements, whether in the interest of preserving jobs they will pay wages to stop people from losing their jobs, and whether they will raise the benefits of those who are already without jobs.

Mr Orbán highlighted that on 6 or 7 April they would present the biggest and most comprehensive action plan in the history of Hungary whose purpose would be to stimulate the growth of the economy. He asked for patience until then regarding information on specific measures.

Mr Harangozó also asked whether, upon the passage of the threat posed by the epidemic, the government would maintain the state of danger due to the implementation of economic measures and in the interest of restoring economic stability.

The Prime Minister stated that with today’s decision of Parliament he did not have the possibility of extending anything. Parliament will decide when the state of danger ends. They have not taken any powers away; instead, the government has given Members of Parliament the right to declare a state of danger, he added.

Gergely Arató (DK) told the Prime Minister that those who were fighting against the disease in health care were genuine heroes, but “through your fault” they were going to battle without arms, supplies and a battle plan.

Mr Orbán said all measures adopted during the state of danger will remain in force until Parliament so decides. “Everyone should calm down,” the government’s powers do not pose a threat “either to you, or to democracy,” he added.

He highlighted that tests were being carried out in seven designated, accredited laboratories based on the WHO’s relevant recommendation. They carried out 13,301 laboratory tests up to Monday morning. Compared with other countries, Hungary implemented the necessary measures earlier, “we have nothing to be ashamed of,” he said stating his view.

Mr Arató remarked that the government had done more for Hungarian football than for Hungarian health care, but today there would be more demand for health care. He suggested that the health care minister should be replaced with someone whom members of the public and health care workers equally trusted.

In his reply, the Prime Minister listed the health care measures implemented by the previous government. He highlighted that they had withdrawn funds from the sector, had reduced the wages of health care workers, and hospitals had accumulated debts. These are the measures they should use as a yardstick when levelling criticisms, he advised members of the opposition.

On 6 or 7 April, the government will present the most overarching economic stimulus package in the history of Hungary, about which he will inform the public and Parliament together, Mr Orbán said answering a question from Bence Tordai (Párbeszéd). The opposition politician previously complained that the government would only use HUF 225 billion for the containment effort. He highlighted that in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania income support measures amounting to 75 to 80 per cent had been introduced, and asked whether in Hungary the state would in any way supplement the incomes of those who had lost their jobs.

In his answer, the Prime Minister stressed that in the debates conducted in the past 30 years, they had concluded that all economic management packages must aspire to giving people jobs and decent salaries. The biggest economic stimulus action plan in Hungary’s history will result in jobs for everyone, he laid down.

Mr Tordai said – if he understands correctly – the government seeks to guarantee full employment during the crisis. This is evidently nonsensical, he said.

In his reply, Mr Orbán highlighted that the reality is that in 2010 unemployment was above 12 per cent, and at the time, they undertook to create 1 million jobs over 10 years. The opposition merely laughed, the Prime Minister recalled, adding that the situation is that they had come close to or had perhaps even reached the stage when one could confidently say that those who wanted to work had jobs. They will submit an action plan which will help people to incomes through work, and will help them to earn a living through work, the Prime Minister stressed.

Mr Orbán also mentioned a statement made by MEP Benedek Jávor on Monday in Brussels, asserting that “this is a relatively harmless epidemic […], this is now a relatively cheap warning”. Can you please come to some agreement, if I may ask?, the Prime Minister concluded his reply.

László Lóránt Keresztes (LMP) relayed a request of mayors to the Prime Minister. He highlighted that according to local governments, they had not received adequate funds, and likewise had no access to fundamental information regarding the number of patients and persons in care in a given city.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in response that he is unable to offer a better system than the present one, not even if there might well be hiccups. They have formed containment/defence committees to have bodies in place with local public figures who are authorised to access information, make decisions and represent the people locally where things are happening. He himself is unable to provide more information, given that every morning the Operational Group is working with the reports received from the local containment committees.

In his reply, Mr Keresztes argued that the mayors of county-ranked cities are members of the county containment committees, but even in that capacity they were not given even fundamental information.

Mr Orbán stressed he would make every effort to ensure that the local committees should be able to provide as comprehensive information for the locals and those working there as possible. So far he thought local mayors were always more knowledgeable than representatives of the state, the Prime Minister observed.

László György Lukács (Jobbik) asked, among others, when the epidemic was expected to peak. In his view, according to mathematical models, the country’s ventilator capacity will reach saturation point by the end of April.

He also wanted to know what caused delays in supplies, and whether we should expect fatalities among health care workers. He further suggested that people should be required to wear face masks in public places.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said he is unable to offer a reassuring answer regarding the timeline of the epidemic. He said three task forces are preparing projections for him, and not once have the data provided by them coincided. As a result, there is an enormous amount of uncertainty regarding this.

He emphatically spoke about the need for slowing down the spread in order to minimise the pressure on the health care system in the gravest situation.

We must prepare for physicians falling ill, he said. He stressed at the same time that they are not allowing doctors over 65 near infected patients. Doctors falling ill will be replaced with residents whose specific training has started. This is taking place according to a military action plan, he stated.

Regarding the wearing of face masks, he said they cannot introduce it on a mandatory basis because at present there is no guarantee that there will be enough face masks in pharmacies as all available supplies are being stockpiled for hospitals. As a result, he can only ask people to wear face masks.

Independent MP Dóra Dúró pointed out that in the present situation the elderly were being separated from their children and grandchildren for months. Therefore, in her view, at least free telephone services should be made available for them, to which end telecommunications companies must be involved in footing the bill of the containment effort.

In his reply, Mr Orbán spoke out against stirring up anti-elderly emotions, primarily in online media. “We cannot allow this,” he pointed out.

Regarding telephone services, he recalled that in 2010 when the government took office not a single telecommunications service provider was Hungarian-owned, and so he cannot oblige them to provide free services. “We are working on creating a situation where making phone calls should be a minimal burden both for the elderly and others,” he added.

He also recalled that the government had involved both banks and multinational companies in its first country rescue package. He spoke about the credit debt repayment moratorium affecting banks, and added that “as regards multinational companies, please trust me and wait until 7 April”.