A further easing of novel coronavirus-related restrictions will not come before the end of next week, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said on Friday.
In an interview to public broadcaster Kossuth Radio, Orbán said the standpoint of experts was that until the number of deaths start to fall, “we should be careful about reopening Budapest”, he added.
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Orbán asked decision-makers and journalists to resist believing “they understand [the coronavirus epidemic] better than the experts do”.
On the subject of whether schools should reopen before the summer holiday starting on June 15, Orbán said he had not seen “any great demand” for this to happen. If there is, the government will consider reopening schools, he said.
Orbán praised the public education system and Hungarian teachers, saying that the transition to digital education “has turned out to have worked well … and that we have excellent teachers”.
Teachers in Hungary have risen to the task “like nowhere else in Europe”, Orbán said.
Commenting on school graduation exams which started on May 4, Orbán said: “Some thought it was impossible to do … but reality has shown otherwise”. Only three percent of students decided to postpone their exams, he noted. “Our education system has done well,” he said.
Regarding equipment needed for the epidemic protection efforts, Orbán said he was “constantly monitoring” the situation to ensure no one was left untreated for lack of equipment.
It is a priority to ensure that Hungary itself is equipped to produce face masks, ventilators and other gear to fight the virus, as well as a vaccine when it becomes available, he said.
Meanwhile, the interior and finance ministers have been tasked with doubling capacity of Hungary’s fostered work scheme, he said. “We’re prepared to employ 200,000 fostered workers.”
Regarding international backlash against Hungary’s law to fight the epidemic, Orbán said: “We know they are lying and we are telling the truth.”
Orbán said the “ongoing battle” within the bloc was about “whether we’ll have an empire in Europe” or nation states. Hungarians don’t want to be “dissolved” into any kind of an empire at all “just like they didn’t want to be a part of the Turkish, Habsburg or Soviet empires over the course of history.”
But those who want to create an empire in Europe “want to break down nation states into an imperial order, the united states of Europe”, the prime minister insisted. “We want to stay out of this and want to remain as Hungarians. We want Hungary to remain Hungarian.”
“It is because of this stance that those committed to the imperial concept will take every opportunity they get to weaken the Hungarian government,” Orbán said. “In fact, they’re attacking things that an overwhelming majority of people support,” he said, naming the utility bill cuts, the government’s position on the issue of migration and its response to the coronavirus epidemic as examples.
“The dispute is not about democracy, but rather about empire.”
But when the lives of tens of thousands in Hungary are under threat and half the country is fighting to save them, “and then you get kicked from behind, you have to strike a sharper tone and say ‘stop’, because if we don’t then they’ll do it again the next time”, he said. “We have to make it clear that one can’t pick on Hungarians without consequences,” the prime minister said. “Especially in times of trouble; we won’t forget it . and we’ll settle the score.”
Asked if it was reasonable to talk about unity within the European People’s Party (EPP) of which ruling Fidesz is a member, Orbán said it was, because “arguments happen in every family, but it’s not by chance that we’re in the same one”. He said decent people worked to keep their family together for as long as possible, “though it may not always work out”. “At that point, it’s time to start a new chapter.”
Commenting on the fall in industrial output in March, Orbán said the figures would get even worse. He projected “brutal” figures for April, arguing that “the entire month was horrible in terms of the economy.” The economic indicators for May are also expected to be poor, albeit slightly better, while June figures are likely to show a significant improvement, he said.
The “antidote” for the economic fallout of the epidemic is te preservation of existing jobs and the creation of new ones, Orbán said.
“We’re prepared to employ 200,000 fostered workers . and if this capacity is exhausted, we’ll expand it.” Orbán noted that fewer than 100,000 fostered workers are employed in Hungary today.
So far 160,000 people have turned to the state for help after losing their jobs, Orbán said, adding that the government had a duty to provide them with an opportunity to work.
The prime minister also urged a boost to investments and economic developments, noting that his would help create jobs. The government is supporting new investments with thousands of billions of forints, he noted.
“We’re building a labour-based economy, therefore our focus is on job creation,” he said, arguing that it was this policy and approach that had helped save the country in 2010, “and it’ll work this time, too”. Hungary will find its way back to the path of economic success “quicker than many would believe today”, Orbán added.
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