New restrictions, a plea for money, and a presidential visit

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Government introduces new restrictions to curb 4th wave of pandemic

Numbers have been on the rise in Hungary for the past few weeks, with a surge in recent days, and the government reluctantly decided to introduce new restrictive measures to restrain the fourth wave of the pandemic.

Following serious consultations with healthcare professionals and having examined the available data on the increasing number of infections, the government decided on three anti-epidemic measures: 

  • companies can now mandate the vaccination of employees, 
  • masks are mandatory in public transport from Nov. 1
  • a ban on visits has been imposed in healthcare institutions 

The new measures were announced by Gergely Gulyas, head of the Prime Minister's Office, at his weekly press conference.

"The vaccine is the only tool that can offer effective protection," Gulyas also stressed.

"The government, as an employer, will require vaccination,” Gulyas said, adding that local governments should soon decide whether they prescribe mandatory coronavirus vaccines for their own employees.

Those who choose to refuse the free jab will have to face consequences: "Anyone who refuses to be vaccinated must be placed on unpaid leave, and if this emergency measure is maintained for one year, the person on leave can be dismissed.”

The deadline of the administration of the vaccine will be specified in a decree that will be issued in a day or two, according to Gulyas.

In the past 24 hours, 107 people have died from the disease, taking the toll to 31,101 in the country, while 803,151 have recovered. Currently, 3,366 patients are being treated in hospitals, including 349 on ventilators, the government's coronavirus information website said.

As of Thursday, 5,962,878 people have received at least the first shot of a vaccine, while 5,744,219 had two jabs, and more than 1,274,000 got their booster shot, according to the website.

The fourth wave of the pandemic also took its toll on the economy, Finance Minister Mihaly Varga lowered the government’s official forecast for the annual GDP growth from 7,-7.5 percent to 6.8 percent Thursday.

Joke Party stays out of opposition coalition 

The Hungarian joke party Two-Tailed Dog Party (MKKP) will stay out of the opposition parties’ common list in next year’s general elections, and will face the odds with a separate list of its own, with 85 individual candidates, party president Gergely Kovács informed last Friday.

Kovács also confirmed that his party had been approached by opposition prime ministerial candidate Péter Márki-Zay, hoping that MKKP would join the six-party opposition coalition next spring.

Declining the offer, Kovács explained that MKKP have voters who want to vote for them and only them. He said his hypothesis was confirmed by a recent poll published by Median in mid-October, according to which the MKKP could reach the 5 percent threshold necessary to enter Parliament even if it stayed out of the cooperation of the other opposition parties.

”If everyone who loves us votes for us, there will be 5-6 members of parliament who are not Fidesz,” Kovács underlined.

Basically, he says not having any particular problems with Péter Márki-Zay being the candidate of the united opposition, but stressed he would never cooperate with the parties supporting him (specifically MSZP, DK and Jobbik).

Kovács also informed that the MKKP has already managed to find candidates in 85 constituencies, but said that building a team behind them was the hard part.

In any case, if the satirical party managed to get into parliament, they would cooperate with the current opposition parties in much the same way as they do currently in local governments.

Orbán calls on EU Commission to reimburse billions for border protection

Prime Minister Orbán called upon the President of the European Commission  (EC) to reimburse the costs of Hungary’s border protection measures, arguing that Hungary’s measures have become exemplary for a number of other European countries.

In his letter written to President of the Commission Ursula von der Leyen, Orbán pointed out that a new migration crisis was “unfolding at the doorstep of the European Union.”

“As you are well aware, the hybrid uses of migration stemming from Belarus, as well as the disastrous evacuation of the security forces from Afghanistan may potentially bring forth an even more severe crisis than what we witnessed in 2015,” he added.

Orbán said the Hungarian border was paramount to the security of Europe: “I believe that the only reason behind the fragile stability that we currently have in the EU is the fact that Hungary, together with other Member States, successfully protects the external borders of our Union.”

He recalled that Hungary alone has so far spent over 590 billion forints from its national budget on border protection, and was among the first countries to construct a physical border fence.

Over time, the Hungarian border protection measures have become exemplary, according to Orbán, who listed many countries opting for the construction of physical barriers, such as Greece, Spain, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland.

“Physical barrier appears to be an effective border protection measure that serves the interest of the whole EU, not just Member States of first arrival. This legitimate measure should be additionally and adequately funded from the EU budget as a matter of priority,” Orbán stressed.

In his letter, Prime Minister Orbán pointed out it was great time for the Commission to do what it should have done years ago and recognize that the protection of the external borders was an indisputable manifestation of European solidarity and that the efforts of Member States in this context deserved both recognition and support. 

“Considering the current situation, especially the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and the continuous hybrid threats at the borders of Lithuania, Latvia and Poland with Belarus, we see no indication for the migration pressure to decrease in the near future. 

Now, it is the responsibility of the EU to fairly contribute to our efforts and expenditures,” Orbán concluded.

A spokesman for the EC announced that they had received the letter from Orbán, and that they would reply to the Hungarian prime minister shortly.

The spokesman also said Ursula von der Leyen and the EC’s position had long been known and was crystal clear on the matter: they would not fund fences with EU money.

“The EU supports border protection with financial instruments, but these cannot be used to build fences,” von der Leyen said.

First Presidential visit from South Korean in 20 year

South Korean President Moon Jae-in met both his counterpart János Ader, and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in Budapest.  Moon’s visit is the first presidential visit from South Korea in twenty years.

Áder and Moon held a joint press conference, where Áder presented the Asian country as one of the most important investors in Hungary, with more than 5 billion USD invested so far.  In 2019, the level of investments from South Korea even surpassed that of Germany.

Áder also said that he had met with the Korean president at the Glasgow climate summit on Tuesday, and that the two countries' climate goals were the same on several points: both countries aim to become carbon neutral by 2050, and both agreed that it was not possible to reach that level without nuclear energy.

Achieving climate neutrality requires further efforts and developments, which will provide additional opportunities for cooperation between the two countries in the scientific, technological and economic fields, according to Áder.

Moon reaffirmed his intention to raise relations between the two countries to the level of a strategic partnership.

He recalled that the level of trade between the two countries broke a record last year despite the covid pandemic, and pointed out that South Korea invested in innovative areas such as electric cars or batteries.

Moon also thanked Hungary for providing great assistance in locating the victims after the tragic boat accident of the Hableány, and for establishing a memorial site for the victims.

Moon also spoke about the importance of sustained dialogue between the two Koreas and thanked Hungary for its support in this area.

Prime Minister Orbán also met shortly with Moon: “We are amazed at how South Korea has become one of the world’s leading technological powers with a population of fifty million people,” the Hungarian prime minister declared, adding that he could only tell the best about the Korean companies present in Hungary: they have fantastic investments here, they are very honest people, all agreements are respected, deadlines are met, we really like to work with them.”