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Hungary locks down for two weeks to curb Covid-19 transmission

Hungary locks down for two weeks to curb Covid-19 transmission

Wage supports and tax benefits would be extended beyond the tourist sector for the duration of the restrictions

Hungary will shutter almost all shops and services for two weeks from Monday in a bid to slow down the rate of third-wave coronavirus infections which is among the highest in Europe. Kindergartens and primary schools will also close, but nurseries will stay open for the time being.

No restrictions on outdoor sports and recreation

Announcing the decision, Gergely Gulyás, the head of the prime minister’s office, said yesterday that wearing masks will remain mandatory outdoors. Gyms will also be closed but parks will be freely accessible and outdoor sports can go ahead provided that people maintain a safe distance of 1.5 metres.

Gulyás asked businesses to ensure that their employees, and particularly those with children, can work from home wherever possible. Hungary will impose tighter controls on its borders, he added. Freight and transit traffic, however, will not be impeded.

“Last phase of the war against coronavirus”

Commenting on the forthcoming restrictions in his Friday morning appearance on Kossuth Rádió, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said that the two-week lockdown will usher in “the last phase of the war against coronavirus”. He clarified, quoted by Hungary Today, that essential services such as grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and shops selling tools for “spring gardening” will stay open, but “everything else”, including restaurants, casinos, hotels, and shops selling electronics or entertainment will have to shutter. Florists will be allowed to open on March 8, International Women’s Day.

“We must now lock down so we can reopen around Easter,” the prime minister said. He added that the government was waiting for voters’ feedback in a national survey about a gradual easing of restrictions.

Orbán promised that wage subsidies and tax benefits currently offered to tourism-related businesses would be extended to other sectors affected by the new restrictions. Tenants in municipally- and state-owned properties will not have to pay rent for the whole month of March.

Vaccination campaign moves on

Commenting on the coronavirus situation in Hungary, the PM informed that there are nearly 6,900 people in hospital with Covid-19, but predicted that “the number could rise as high as 15,000 or even 20,000”. Therefore, the government is committed to ensuring enough hospital beds, ventilators and medical staff, expecting involvement from final-year medical students and the private health sector, he said.

Touching upon travel, Orbán asked Hungarians to postpone “luxury vacations planned to dangerous locations” because these people pose the risk of importing new, more contagious virus variants.

Orbán said that the national vaccination drive was making good progress, despite delays in vaccine deliveries, with 862,953 people having received their first jab. He projected that 2.4 million people will be vaccinated by the first week of April, 4.7 million by early May and over 8 million by early July.

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