Wage subsidies for businesses running bars and eateries is being expanded to cover the month of May, Gergely Gulyás, the prime minister’s chief of staff, said. Bars and restaurants can start serving customers outdoors when the number of Hungarians inoculated against Covid-19 reaches 3.5 million, which is expected around the middle of next week, Gulyás said.
The government is issuing a decree allowing restaurants to use public spaces free of charge, Gulyás said, adding however that “some Budapest districts” were “planning to raise those fees in the middle of the pandemic”. Gulyás welcomed the “consensus between the government and the city” administration in this regard, and he called on the mayor, Gergely Karácsony, to “talk to people in his own party who take contrary measures” in certain districts of the capital. He noted the Hungarian tourism agency and catering unions have produced guidelines for the hospitality industry so that pandemic-related rules are observed after reopening.
Meanwhile, the reopening of schools will proceed gradually, Gulyás said, with maximum precautions taken in line with the responses people gave in the government’s national consultation survey. “In the first phase, kindergartens and the lower grades of primary schools will reopen next week,” Gulyás said. Crèches have been open all along and “a large percentage of parents were making use of that option”, he added.
Gulyás confirmed that the Sputnik V jabs to be used as second doses would be arriving on time and could be administered to everyone 21 days after the first dose. He added, however, that most virologists were in agreement that it would still be safe to administer the two doses 25-30 days apart. Meanwhile, he said once all teachers are vaccinated it would be left up to general practitioners to decide on the order of the waiting list. Gulyás said it was unlikely that last week’s pace of vaccinations could be sustained, referring to the slow delivery of jabs coming from the European Union and “the loss of the Janssen vaccine”. He said the Hungarian government had also ordered a review of the Janssen jab. If the virologists reviewing the vaccine conclude that it is safe to use, Hungary will put it to use, he said, adding that the findings of the review will be made public. Gulyás also said that there was no need to substitute the second dose of the AstraZeneca jab for another type of vaccine, arguing that the British-Swedish drugmaker’s shot was “showing excellent results”.
Asked if the version of the Sputnik V vaccine being used in Hungary was the same as the one on which a study by medical journal The Lancet was based, Gulyás said all batches of the vaccine that arrive in Hungary are reviewed by the national drug regulator. If the regulator finds that the given batch is safe and effective, it approves its use, he said, adding that Sputnik V was among the best Covid-19 vaccines and was “even better than the Western jabs”. He said that while the Pfizer, Sinopharm and Sputnik V vaccines were being delivered on time, the other vaccine manufacturers had run into problems regarding their deliveries.
Concerning operations, Gulyás said no critical operations were being suspended and cancer treatments were also ongoing. Only screening tests have been suspended, but acute surgeries are still being performed, he added. Currently 1,523 Covid patients are in intensive care units.
The PM’s chief of staff said he believed that all vaccine recipients would be able to travel abroad in the summer if the status of the pandemic allowed it. He said it was “unrealistic” that anyone would be barred from an EU country because they had received a vaccine not approved by the bloc. Gulyás said that by the summer, those who are vaccinated will no longer need to quarantine when returning home. For now, however, quarantine rules remain in place, he said, adding that it would preferable were only business travellers to travel abroad. Asked when the pandemic may be over in Hungary, Gulyás said it was difficult to say and also depended on how long it would last in other countries and whether new variants would emerge. He said Hungary would only be completely safe once the pandemic ended the world over. All Hungary can do, he said, is inoculate as many people as possible. Once the country achieves herd immunity, after vaccinating 6 million people, “we’ll be able to say that the pandemic is over,” he said, adding that the government would wait for vaccinations to reach 3.5 million before deciding on the next stage of the country’s reopening. The government’s job is to accelerate vaccinations while ensuring that Hungary is able to function, he said, noting the tourism and hospitality sector had been hit the hardest by the pandemic over the past 13-14 months. This sector will therefore reopen as soon as it is safe, he added. Gulyás said that like health-care workers, restaurant workers will not be required to get the vaccine either. He said it was likely that once vaccinations reach 4 million, the government will introduce rules that are tied to the immunity certificate.
Meanwhile, Gulyás said the government will submit the 2022 draft budget to parliament at the end of the month.
Answering a question concerning a possible decision by the Budapest metropolitan council to cancel the 2023 World Athletics Championships should the government insist on changes to municipal scheme to construct a students’ quarter to include a campus for China’s Fudan university, Gulyás said that the government would observe its earlier deal with the municipality. “The students’ quarter will be completed,” he said, adding that the plans for the students’ quarter and the campus were “in full harmony”. Commenting on the mayor of Budapest, Gulyás said that Gergely Karácsony “has been behaving as if he sees his municipal position as a springboard” for his bid to become prime minister after the 2022 election. Karácsony, he added, sought political conflicts with the government “in areas where we used to see eye to eye”. Leftist leader Ferenc Gyurcsány had made a strategic decision to “attack” the government’s measures during the pandemic, he said, adding that it was “regrettable” that Karácsony “has followed suit”.
On another subject, the minister said that racist remarks made by a professor of Szeged University were incompatible with values held by the government, and expressed the government’s apologies for having proposed that László Gulyás receive a high state order.