Katalin Nagy: There’s a report in [the Hungarian news portal] Index, stating that data from two renowned international statistical sources – Johns Hopkins University and the London-based Our World In Data – shows that this week we’re in the leading pack in terms of vaccination, ranked tenth in the world and number one in the European Union. I welcome Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the studio. Are you satisfied with the numbers?
I’m Hungarian, so I’ll never be satisfied, but we can regard this as a fine achievement. After all, if you’re Hungarian what else could you want than to be the best? We’re also preparing for the Olympic Games, and Hungarians are no strangers to the notion of competition. In fact we generally acquit ourselves well in competition and don’t shy away from it. This, however, is a rather special competition: we mustn’t regard it as being about anything other than Hungarian lives. And we mustn’t allow this competitive spirit itself to become more important than what’s at stake in this competition: human lives. People must be saved, lives must be saved. We haven’t managed to save everyone’s life, because those with serious underlying conditions have been unable to withstand the coronavirus, and they’ve died. So we’ve sustained losses, very grave losses. And while we talk about being number one in terms of vaccination, our overriding priority must continue to be compassion and assistance in enduring pain.
Yesterday you met Katalin Karikó, the world-famous biochemist. What percentage of vaccination did she say we need in order to bring this to an end?
She said a lot of interesting things, including on biomedicine – some of which I understood! For a lawyer like me, such a conversation isn’t a simple one. But the most important thing is that once again we’re looking at another great Hungarian achievement. There’s something splendid about someone from Kisújszállás becoming the most famous living Hungarian. We can confidently say that Katalin Karikó is the most famous Hungarian alive today. Furthermore, she’s attained global fame with an achievement which can save the lives of millions of people – many millions of people. I think this is a great thing, and I’ve felt how right it is to be proud of her myself – even though I wasn’t there in the laboratory among the test tubes when Professor Karikó was conducting her experiments. Nonetheless we feel that this belongs to us, too. We Hungarians like to speak in the first-person plural: it was we who established the state; we who adopted the laws of Saint Stephen; we who beat the English at Wembley ; and under King Matthias, ours was the army that defended the proud fortress of Vienna. So we’re all part of this, because we’re a community, a national community, and we see ourselves reflected in one another’s success – and also, of course, in one another’s failures. What’s more, my mother comes from Mezőtúr, while my wife’s from Szolnok; so I’m pretty familiar with the part of Hungary that can be called “Hunnia”. It’s a tougher world than that of Pannonia, west of the Danube. Over there, the battle for life is a tougher one; but it improves the fighting spirit. And so we can confidently say that in today’s dangerous world we have a professor who knows everything about this pandemic and the vaccine needed to defend against it. I felt a sense of safety, because if there’s any problem there’s a Hungarian who can be reached, whom we can call, and who can give us advice about what to do. So it was a very interesting experience. And as I’ve mentioned Kisújszállás, I believe Professor Karikó comes from a family of butchers; and so in addition to test tubes and vaccination, we were also able to discuss technical issues such as pork brawn and the like! She told me that one should only buy paprika from Szeged, and that’s what I’ve heard elsewhere. All in all, I had the chance to meet a very friendly, world-famous Hungarian professor who is proud of her roots and proud of being Hungarian.
Does she also think that the back of the third wave has been broken, and that there’s a chance of avoiding a fourth one?
I don’t know how often you have the chance to speak to scientists. As it’s non-finite, with something new emerging all the time, science is a world in which it’s extremely difficult to coax a “yes”, a “no”, or a definitive statement from a medical researcher.
Yes. The turns of phrase that they use in discussions are “as things stand at present”, or “according to current human knowledge”, or “according to the available data”. Professor Karikó stated with certainty, however, that what they’ve developed – she and her research team, which includes other Hungarians, also from Kisújszállás – is a method capable of enabling humanity to respond rapidly if new mutations emerge. Therefore the knowledge she imparted to me and us yesterday increased my sense of security and the country’s sense of security.
In Hungary people can now book vaccination appointments for four types of vaccine. This isn’t possible anywhere else in Europe. Despite this, the Left keep saying that we must be cautious about Eastern vaccines. And despite the fact that the World Health Organization has given the [Chinese] Sinopharm vaccine its approval, and in Moscow yesterday the UN Secretary General praised the Sputnik V vaccine, the Germans, for example, are saying that they’ll only accept vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency.
With your permission I’d like to avoid wasting too much of our precious time on the Left. Suffice to say that now it’s perfectly clear that, with regard to the pandemic, the Left in Hungary have behaved disgracefully: they’ve gone too far, they haven’t helped, and they’ve only made matters worse. I think that in a pandemic the defence operation is a national cause. In a situation like this, not contributing to it is more than a mistake. In a situation like this, fabricating fake videos is more than a mistake. Discouraging people from being vaccinated and arousing suspicions related to certain vaccines is more than a mistake. So I don’t think we should waste any more time on that. We must all remember that in times of trouble we cannot rely on the Left. As regards the choice of vaccines, last week I was at an EU summit in Porto, and there I realised that no other country has such an “à la carte” service, in which you go in and ask for this vaccine or that, and have the choice of waiting if your first choice isn’t immediately available. So from what I’ve seen, Western European countries are one month – or rather two months – behind us. They’re happy to be making any progress at all. Over here we’re vaccinating young people aged between 16 and 18 – and for this I’d like to thank young people, because more than half of those in that age group have registered for vaccination. This testifies to a serious sense of responsibility; they’re young and recover from this more easily than the elderly, but they’ve asked for the vaccine because they know that they can infect others, who might even die of the disease. So hats off to our young people. While we’re vaccinating them, in Western Europe it’s still the turn of senior citizens. And the fact that in Hungary one can choose surprises even me. It surprised me when I first heard it said that we should organise this so that there would be multiple types of vaccine, and – as we wouldn’t differentiate between vaccines, and there would be both Eastern and Western – we should allow people to choose. And indeed we mustn’t turn the vaccine into an ideological issue: this is about lives, and lives stand above all party-political considerations. It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice. This is also true of the vaccine: it doesn’t matter where it comes from, as long as it protects us. So when I first heard this, I said “And won’t they want to specify the appearance of the person giving them the injection, what kind of nurse they’d like to receive the vaccine from?” At first, when the Interior Minister told me that this was possible, I thought it was absurd. I said, “Dear Interior Minister, Dear Sándor, let’s deal with this however we can. We should be happy for everyone to have just one option.” But he told me to believe him that the orders placed made it clear that if we organised things well and an IT platform was created – no simple matter, but if we could set one up – we could reach a situation in which there would not only be enough vaccine, but in which you could decide which one you trust the most and which one you want. Naturally we can’t promise that all of them will be available at the same time, but at some point they will be. What I see right now, for instance, is that there are 944,000 of our compatriots who have registered but who have decided not to be vaccinated yet, despite the general availability of vaccines. This leads us to conclude that they’re waiting for particular types of vaccine that aren’t now in stock. Right now the Pfizer vaccine is in particularly short supply. We started with the Operational Group meeting early this morning, and there I was told that an average of around 330,000 Pfizer vaccines are arriving in the country every week. We must use around 180,000 to 185,000 of these for second vaccinations, and so once we’ve finished vaccinating secondary school students – young people between 16 and 18 – then every week an average of around 150,000 Hungarians over the age of 18 will have access to Pfizer vaccines. This is how many will be available in the weeks ahead. These, too, will be available. At the same time we have Russian vaccine, we have AstraZeneca, we also have Sinopharm, and other types of vaccine will arrive as well – although in smaller quantities. So what I thought was absurd a month ago has become reality. We mustn’t doubt ourselves; this is the lesson I also need to learn from time to time.
How do you see the ongoing process of reopening? Many people were concerned about the reopening of café and restaurant terraces, and about pupils in the lower grades returning to elementary and nursery school. Now even secondary school students have gone back. When will we reach the point at which we can talk about the next steps towards lifting restrictions?
What I can say is that Hungary will be the first country in Europe to be able to return to life as normal; but this won’t mean that the pandemic has ended. The pandemic is still here; we’re still in a pandemic situation, with measures against it still in effect. So I’m asking everyone to observe the rules which are necessary for a safe life. The next point at which we’ll be able to lift more restrictions will be when 5 million people have been vaccinated. According to this morning’s report, 4,483,598 Hungarians have received their first dose of the vaccine. From this we can conclude that we’ll reach 5 million before the end of May. Some people say that we’ll reach that point sometime around Whitsun, no later than one or two days after Whitsun. And, based on the Operational Group’s decision, when we reach 5 million I’ll announce the lifting of other restrictions. These will relate to wedding receptions, large-scale events and the night-time curfew. I’d like to clarify in advance that I won’t be able to announce permission for people to attend certain events – let’s call them “mass events” – without immunity certificates. We’ll definitely maintain this restriction until August. We don’t yet know whether it will be until the middle or end of August, but young people, among others, should consider that mass music events and large-scale events won’t be open to people without immunity certificates until the beginning or middle of August. They’ll be open to holders of immunity certificates, but we’ll talk about this when we reach 6 million. The question is whether we’ll reach the level of 6 million people. What can I tell you now? I can tell you that, based on the number of people who have registered, it’s not impossible that the number of people vaccinated could reach 6 million. This, however, is entirely dependent on people themselves: it’s each person’s individual decision and responsibility to be vaccinated. I can also tell you that we’re hearing a lot about the possibility of perhaps needing to administer a third vaccine in the autumn. We have a task force that’s responsible for the management, procurement and scheduling of vaccines, and they’ve reported that the necessary orders have been placed. They’ve estimated the reserve quantity necessary for a possible third dose of the vaccine, and the vaccines needed for a possible third dose are already in the bag. So although we don’t yet know this, as the science hasn’t yet come to a definitive conclusion, everyone can rest assured that if a third vaccination is indeed required we’ll be able to meet that requirement in the autumn and in the first quarter of next year. In fact I’d like to encourage Hungarians living outside Hungary to register from Monday. If anyone from any part of the world – from Tierra del Fuego or Patagonia to Csíkszereda [Miercurea Ciuc] – wants to be vaccinated, but that’s not possible where they live or they simply have more trust in Hungary, they should come here to us. They should register on the dedicated platform, they’ll be given a time and a venue, they can come here and they’ll be vaccinated.
The European Commission has concluded that Hungary’s employment rate is only 1.1 per cent lower than its pre-pandemic level. They’ve therefore also increased their GDP growth forecast by half a percentage point. Will the budget that the Government has just submitted to Parliament be able to ensure that this growth can be realised?
I have better figures than that. The sphere of employment statistics is one of the most complex, with four or five different data items supplied, gathered and processed. It’s very difficult to choose the one that offers true guidance. I try to do so, working with the simple method – you might even call it a primitive method – of looking at the number of people in work before the crisis and the number of people in work now. For now I’ll ignore how many people registered as unemployed or as job-seekers. I only look at the number of people in work. And I can tell you that we’ve reached the pre-crisis level. So in Hungary now the same number of people are in work as were before the crisis. At times there are some minor fluctuations, with ten, twenty or thirty thousand fewer or more; but now on the whole it’s possible to assume that the Hungarian economy’s capacity for providing people with jobs has returned to the level it was at before the crisis. In fact I’m now expecting to see a lower unemployment rate and a higher employment rate than we had before the crisis. We can’t be grateful enough to our doctors and nurses for this, because they had to do an excellent job to allow people to work. Today there are only 2,600 patients in hospital. There were times when this number was much higher: it was around 12,500 at its peak. And now there are only 338 people on ventilators, despite the fact that at one time that number was as high as 1,529. They’ve restored a very large number of people to health. I think that our doctors and nurses have ensured the recovery of everyone for whom that was humanly possible. The total number of people who have recovered from this disease is over 600,000: it stands at 608,000. And a very large number of those people were specifically saved by our doctors and restored to health. So we salute them. For people to be able to work they must be healthy, and so the quality of health care and the dedicated work of doctors and nurses also contributes to the performance of the economy, as they help people back into the labour market. As regards the budget, this is a fine little budget. I have to say that when we were in the process of putting it together I didn’t think we’d have to salute Finance Minister Mihály Varga for constructing the budget so well. This budget also undertakes some things that I didn’t believe we’d be capable of in parallel. For instance, we’re paying the second weekly instalment of the thirteenth month’s pension and – as growth will be higher – payment of a pension premium in the autumn; and I definitely didn’t think that in parallel with this we’d also be able to enact full tax exemption for workers under the age of 25. Anyway, the Finance Minister had stitched all this together well. And I can also tell you that in this budget he even designated an allocation of 7,300 billion forints needed to relaunch the economy. What follows from this? Putting it in normal language, rather than in the technocratic language of the budget, I can tell you that this budget can enable Hungary to embark on a path of growth that is remarkable in comparison with anywhere in Europe. It will be possible to achieve what at the beginning of the crisis we called “overtaking on the bend”: to come out of the crisis stronger than we went into it, being in a better economic position than other European countries after the crisis than was the case before the crisis. Today we have a realistic chance of achieving this. But we’ll have to work hard for it, and it’s not yet in the bag. We have a plan for this – not only an economic policy, but also a financial plan ; but we’ll have to work extremely hard in order to realise it. We must successfully implement the relaunch of the country. Within a week we’ll have set up an operational group responsible for this relaunch. This group will comprise two units, each with its own leaders in charge: one half will deal with the relaunch of the economy, while the other half will deal with relaunching life outside the economy. So I believe that if we work in accordance with the Finance Minister’s budgetary plan, then even our highest hopes could come true.
Tomorrow is the International Day of Families, and in Hungary young people with families have every reason to believe that here they’re at the centre of attention not only for one day, as family policy in Hungary is envied in the Western half of Europe. In fact even Americans ask about our experience and for our advice. How do you see this issue?
This is a true achievement, a Hungarian achievement. There is also much for which we should thank Katalin Novák, our Minister for Families. But starting in 2010 – when Central Bank Governor Matolcsy was our Minister of Economy – the path we chose was that it makes no sense to plan for the future if there are no children. Because in that case who are we planning the future for? For migrants, for immigrants, for whom? If there are no Hungarian children, there is no Hungarian future: some other people will live here, but it won’t be us. Therefore we thought that economic policy makes sense, growth makes sense, it all makes sense if we have children. And around 2010 we also knew – and very many excellent sociologists, economists and social science experts worked to support this claim – that young Hungarians wanted more children than they were committing themselves to having. So here the situation is not the one we see in many other countries, where young people have unfortunately turned away from the family model for life and don’t want to have children. So the madness that we hear of in many countries – that families aren’t good and children aren’t something positive – has not set foot in Hungary. So here we’re resistant ; or maybe I should say that we – and young people – have a normal way of thinking about children and the family. Anyway, scientists concluded that if we pursue good economic policy and good family policy, and if we remove the obstacles preventing young people committing themselves to having fewer children than they’d like to have, then Hungary’s demographic, biological and spiritual balance will be restored. We’re not there yet, so before we start celebrating we should immediately point out that we’re not there yet. We’ve set out on that path, but we’re very far from getting there. We have, however, already removed a few obstacles. We’ll reach a turning point when we can say – and this is a question of pure mathematical and financial calculation, and I can hardly wait for it – that those who decide to have children are also financially better-off than those who don’t. It’s also true that having children transports you emotionally to a different world, because when your child is born you suddenly see the world differently, as if from a greater height, and your heart is lifted. The most important moment in a man’s life – you’d know better than me how it is for ladies – is when his first child is born. From then on perspectives change, horizons change, the way you plan changes. Up until then you only see and feel responsible for life up to the end of your own life and that of your wife. When my first child was born I knew that as the world is heading in the right direction – with no war, with science making progress – both my child and I had a chance of living to be eighty or ninety at best: my optimistic calculation was that it would be around 2050 when I would come to the end of my life and head out of it; but my child would live on for at least another 30 years. So I shouldn’t think about the future of Hungary until 2050, but until 2080. And grandchildren add another thirty years to that. So everything changes when children are born, and then the country’s spiritual balance and values will also be restored. Whether there are enough children isn’t just a simple mathematical fact; it also changes the quality of life. Therefore I’d like to be able to say that with children we benefit not only in terms of quality of life, uplifted hearts and the beauties of life, but that a family that decides to have several children is also predictably and demonstrably better-off financially than those who choose not to. But we’re not there yet, or the country isn’t there yet. I’m pushing hard for this, and in every budget when it comes to discussions with the Finance Minister I try to strongly represent demographic and family policy considerations; but although the situation has greatly improved, at present I’m still unable to tell you that those who decide to have children are better-off in terms of their monthly budgets than those who don’t. As regards life as a whole, of course, they’re better-off, because, in addition to the quality of one’s life, children will also provide security for ageing parents in later life; but when it comes to monthly overheads and budgets, this isn’t the situation yet. So there’s a need to increase family allowances, to increase the tax allowance for children, and to give all kinds of other allowances to families, so that when organizing or planning a monthly budget – a family budget – and taking everything into consideration, a father and mother can say that having more children makes their lives easier.
Thank you. You’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.