Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on the Kossuth Radio Programme “Good Morning Hungary”
18 September 2020

Katalin Nagy: I welcome Viktor Orbán to the studio. I understand that you’ve come here from Korányi Hospital. Does this mean that the spring routine has been reestablished, and you’re once more checking healthcare institutions in person?

Good morning. The second wave has now arrived – in fact, we’re in it up to our waists, and soon up to our chests. At times like this we must return to old routines, which means that in certain places and at certain times I’ll view hospitals in person if necessary. I wouldn’t really call this a hospital inspection. The simple fact is that in the left-wing media yesterday there were reports of there not being enough beds, not enough capacity in Korányi Hospital; and so I thought that I’d go round early this morning. So I was there at six this morning. I woke up the poor doctor on duty and asked him what the situation was. It turns out that of course there are enough beds and enough ventilators, and at present there are also enough staff. It’s true that doctors can see how rapidly the number of people requiring hospitalisation is increasing, how the numbers are rising, and they also see at what point the capacities of their hospitals will reach their limits. Therefore it’s very important that Minister Kásler has published a plan which lays down that once the full capacity of designated hospitals has been reached, once all the beds there and all the doctors and nurses are fully occupied, then the next hospital will come on line. So we have a graduated battle plan: if a hospital that we’ve designated for the treatment of those infected in the pandemic reaches full capacity, then the next hospital will come on line, and if that hospital reaches full capacity yet another will come on line. And if we run out of staff, doctors or nurses, we’ll launch a deployment plan – because we developed a deployment plan in the spring. We developed it to such a level – and I insisted on checking this in person – that we know which nurses will be sent from which hospital to which hospital, where their meals will come from, how much food they’ll have, where they’ll sleep and who will tell them what to do. So we have an action plan like a battle plan. Even though we don’t like these military terms, this action plan is like a battle plan for how the healthcare system should adapt as the number of cases rises and there’s an increase in demand for hospital treatment. Today the situation is that if suddenly in the early hours of this morning we needed to hospitalise a very large number of people, we have ten thousand beds where we could treat coronavirus patients. And if this number isn’t enough, then there will be another ten thousand. And we also have a third contingent of ten thousand. So we haven’t been idle in the months since March: neither healthcare workers, healthcare managers nor the Government have been idle. We’ve thoroughly prepared the healthcare system for the second wave. So today we can say that, having thoroughly prepared the healthcare system, our defence operation now will be different from that in the spring. In the spring we needed to win time in order to find out about the enemy: the virus. And we also needed time to prepare the healthcare system. But now it’s fully prepared. I’m not saying that the healthcare system is in a perfect condition, because today when I went to the hospital admissions department I saw cleaning ladies who were battle weary at the end of round-the-clock shifts. The duty doctor I woke up was also on a round-the-clock shift. So I’m not saying that things are going pleasantly and smoothly with people being well-paid and whatever. That’s not the case. We still have to work hard for such conditions in hospitals; but they’ve been prepared, they know precisely what their tasks are, and they’ll gradually join the defence operation. So this has been done, and now these things have been prepared. As a result it will be possible for our defence operation against the second wave to be completely different from the one against the first wave. During the first wave all we could do was tell everyone to stay at home while we prepared the healthcare system. This has now happened. The healthcare system is fully prepared, and now we’re not telling people to stay at home, but we’re politely asking the Hungarians, we’re asking everyone to obey the rules on handwashing, mask-wearing and social distancing. The task is no longer for everyone to stay at home. The opposite is the case: everyone can lead their own lives, including pupils in schools, teachers, workers, and those in sport and culture. The country must continue functioning; but it must function alongside disciplined defence and observance of rules against the danger that is amongst us, that was brought in from abroad in the spring and now brought in from abroad in the second wave. And as this is a global pandemic, we cannot hermetically seal the country from the rest of the universe: although of course we’re tightening border protection and maintaining the border restrictions, we must continue the defence operation as part of the world. I don’t want to go over the top in praising Hungary, but every analysis of the first wave of the crisis, every international analysis, ranked Hungary among the 25 countries which mounted the best defence against the virus. This is thanks to doctors, nurses and everyone working in hospitals; and it is thanks to every Hungarian citizen who kept to the rules.

The figures show that the number of active infections in Hungary is above ten thousand. On Wednesday eight people died, and on Thursday nine. Germany has now classified both Vienna and Budapest as high-risk zones, high-risk risk regions. We can see that our cousins in Austria – which you’ve been observing as a kind of laboratory – have already tightened their rules again. Here, too, on Wednesday the Government announced some restrictions. Can further restrictions be expected?

Well, the Government must adopt all the decisions and consequently it must bear the responsibility – and of course I must bear most responsibility. Naturally I accept this – after all it’s my job, or what I’m paid for. But I’d like everyone to know that I don’t just come up with ideas off the top of my head which are then turned into decisions: the Government debates the Operational Group’s recommendations and those are the basis for its decisions. Behind the public face of the Operational Group there are task forces. If, for instance, the Operational Group recommends that we close clubs and bars after 11.00 p.m. – and just yesterday the Slovenes decided to close their clubs and bars at 10.00 p.m. – then it’s my job to ask them whether this is justified. Then they say that it is, and specifically ask the Government to adopt a decision to that effect. I’m not saying that I’m Cecília Müller’s subordinate, because the world hasn’t turned upside down. But the truth is that if the Chief Medical Officer says, “Yes Prime Minister, please do this, as it’s important” – and perhaps she won’t literally say “I insist”, but “this is very important” – then I’ll make that decision; because at this time disease control experts have precedence. Therefore I’m also asking the Left – who can’t be relied on in the second wave either, as far as I can see – not to attack disease control experts. Attack me instead – they’ve had plenty of practice in that. Attack the Government, we’re also used to that. Naturally it will be best if they don’t attack Minister Kásler, because he’s in charge of our defence; but they shouldn’t attack disease control experts, because today the success of our defence operation rests primarily on disease control experts. In such a battle an attack from the rear isn’t feasible: the virus itself is mounting a frontal attack. So disease control experts must not be stabbed in the back, because anyone who does so is also attacking the country. If we cannot rely on them [the Left] in our defence – as we know we can’t – they should at least not attack the experts. The fake video, followed by fake news reports claiming that we’re running out of hospitals and that there aren’t enough staff or ventilators, have nothing to do with the truth: they’re all lies and attacks, stabs in the back aimed at those mounting the defence operation.

Prime Minister, in such a situation why doesn’t the Ministry press charges? There’s a law relating to this, and this is what people are asking. There’s all this fake news and fearmongering in the press, this week for example, which caused you to visit Korányi Hospital. Why isn’t the Ministry taking action on this?

I’m not saying that the press is doing this. The press is what it is. I don’t think I need to explain this to you, as you know it better than the back of your hand. I’m not holding the press responsible for the fact that there’s always more interest in brouhaha than in good news, and that it seeks out conflict. They want to sell their product.

But if they create panic by claiming that there aren’t any ventilators left, then outside Budapest and in other parts of the country people hearing this will start panicking.

I just want to say that I don’t blame the press so much for this – I blame left-wing politicians. They should be disseminating information reflecting the true state of affairs: that of course the situation isn’t easy and the second wave of the virus is crashing down on us; this time the task isn’t to stay at home, but to observe the rules and try to sensibly arrange our lives in such a second wave. And the conditions for fighting the virus exist – there’s no reason for panic, there’s no reason for insecurity. If the Left were also saying this – the truth of the situation – and if this were removed from the sphere of political debate, the press itself would probably find some other hunting ground for sensational news, instead of health care. But as there’s an ongoing political debate generated by the Left, thereby weakening our defence operation, the press is also joining in. But the problem is not with the press. I don’t want the cause to be confused with the effect. Well, in the spring the Left said they weren’t going to help the Government: they weren’t going to help the country in the defence operation, because they claimed that Parliament voted to give the Government extraordinary powers, and that this ran counter to democracy. That was their argument. Now, however, extraordinary powers aren’t being invoked. Now that we’ve prepared the healthcare system, everything is operating according to the normal order of things. Now they could truly support the country, rather than stabbing the experts leading our disease control defence in the back. Anyway, this is where we are, and there’s no point in moaning and complaining. I don’t like it when people try to explain why they can’t do their jobs, and obviously people don’t want to hear the Prime Minister complaining either. I’ll do my job, and decisions will be adopted. The Interior Minister has been given the necessary instructions, and we’ll enforce the rules. Naturally lawyers will also look into what legal action could be taken against the fearmongering Left spreading fake news. To be honest with you, however, right now that’s the least of my concerns, because the defence operation will take precedence.

Experts say that the second wave could peak sometime in December or January. That’s very far off. How will we survive, how will we endure these three months?

We’ll endure them somehow. But there’s no doubt that this won’t be a cheerful autumn. It will be difficult to create a cheerful atmosphere at home, with our families and at work when people have to wear face masks – which are themselves a conspicuous exclamation mark signalling that things aren’t as they should be. This is the kind of autumn we’ll have. So I ask everyone to prepare themselves spiritually, in their thoughts and psychologically for the fact that this autumn will focus on the defence operation, and on action against the virus. Please God that I’m wrong, but the number of new infections will exceed one thousand a day. Now I see that the numbers have risen above that in the Czech Republic and in Austria. Sooner or later this will also be the case here. What we must pay attention to is what I tell young people over and over again: I know that they’re healthy and fit, that they look to be in good shape, and that such a virus doesn’t even dare to attack them. I understand all that. Or, if after all it does sneak into their systems, it escapes as fast as it can. They’re young. But that isn’t the case for the elderly. So young people should concern themselves a little more with the issue of infection by the virus, in case they infect their parents and grandparents. Because while the virus has reached young people, and they’re not seriously at risk, that is not the case for the elderly. For the elderly, the chances favour the virus. And lives are what are most important; because those who fall ill with the virus may recover, but we cannot bring back those who die of it. Therefore, in order to protect the elderly, we must first of all look out more for one another and observe the rules. This is why I also tell young people that we should look out for one another.

Visiting bans in social institutions, visiting bans in healthcare institutions. From 1 October children’s temperatures will have to be checked before they enter school in the morning. Is this workable, and will schools have the necessary medical instruments?

It is workable. We’ve ordered the medical instruments, and the Government has decided on this. I see that parents’ associations and local governments have already taken such measures, but the state itself is able to take care of this. From 1 October there will be enough thermometers everywhere. We had to carefully regulate how far parents can accompany their children, and when they’re not allowed to enter school premises. For students in the upper grades there’s no problem, because we let them in – or they walk into school on their own – and their temperatures will be taken. If they have a high temperature they’ll be sent home, and they can go home. But this isn’t the situation with pupils in lower grades – especially with those just starting school, because they’re too young for that. They’re usually taken to school by their parents, and if there’s something wrong they must be taken home. In their case, we must allow parents to accompany their children up to the point where their temperatures are taken. This can be done in the school hall, because we don’t want long queues outside; in October it will be fine – but what will happen when the weather turns cold? Therefore temperatures will be taken inside the school building, and the parents of pupils in the lower grades will be allowed to accompany their children to the point where their temperatures are taken. And if it turns out that there’s something wrong, they can take them home. Devising, organising and checking these minute details, polishing and fine-tuning these working processes is quite a time-consuming task: it takes time for appropriate decisions to be adopted in response to all such real-life situations. But Minister Kásler and Deputy Prime Minister Pintér are standing their ground, and are devising these detailed regulations with steady nerves, calmness and composure. In general, and right now, calmness and composure are the key words. We know what must be done, we know what we’re up against. We know what will work and what won’t work. We know what will make things worse. Therefore we must follow the rules with calmness and composure.

When will the Economic Operational Group meet? When will they table their recommendations to the Government?

Proposals are coming in one by one. We’ll have the next meeting tomorrow morning. I’ve already spoken about this with Deputy Prime Minister Mihály Varga. Tomorrow morning we’ll decide on one issue, and that’s the issue of the debt repayment moratorium. In other words what we’re talking about is that the Government adopted a decision – it was one of our best decisions – making it possible for families and businesses to defer repayment of their debts until the end of this year, until 1 January next year. I see that two thirds of businesses and between half and two thirds of individuals are taking advantage of this. This means that those who’ve concluded that they’re unable or unwilling to repay their loan instalments have been able to defer these payments so that repayments will not increase beyond 1 January and their overall debt won’t increase either. But 1 January will soon be upon us, and what will happen after that? This is what we’ll have to decide on now: whether or not the debt repayment moratorium should continue, or which parts of it should continue. On Wednesday the Government discussed several proposals, but we’ll adopt a decision at the meeting of the Economic Operational Group on Saturday, tomorrow morning.

If we’re expecting a long defence operation, then recovery from the present economic recession will also take a long time. Will this take a year? How do you see this? Analysts say that not everything will be rosy from January 2021.

Well, the timetable I have in my head is the following. First of all we must continue our defence operation, until there’s a vaccine. We must maintain our defence. Will there be a vaccine? When I last spoke to the President of the US, he reassured me that there will be a US vaccine by the end of October – or by the end of the year at the latest. He also said that Hungary will have access to that vaccine – but we’ll believe that when we see it. Initially I’m sure that very many will be queuing up for it. We’re continuously monitoring all the research efforts around the world, and we’re also taking part in a European research project. We’re contributing quite a lot of money. We’ve now decided on an additional contribution to that European research project of more than two billion forints; and there we’re not just asking for access to the vaccine, but we have the appropriate rights. But we don’t know when this will yield results. A specific feature of the timetable in my head is that it doesn’t have a specific end point. The defence operation will end when there’s a vaccine. Until then we must continue. Naturally I see the problems in the economy, and as well as having empathy for people I’m also trying to help them. But I also see opportunities. For instance, when I take a look at the numbers – which, of course, the Left deny – I can see that in January this year, before the virus, 4,458,000 people in Hungary were in work, while in August that number was 4,513,00. So compared with January the number of people in work hasn’t decreased, but increased. And in August 144,000 more people were in work than at the low point in April. So, however surprising it may seem, we must again prepare for a labour shortage in Hungary, for the economy to grow and develop at a faster pace than the labour market. This is the problem we’re struggling with. Of course we also have a specific Budapest problem, rooted in the situation of tourism in Budapest. Perhaps it was last time that I told you that in Budapest foreigners account for 93 per cent of guest nights, while Hungarians only account for 7 per cent. In Paris the percentage of French people among hotel guests is around 50 to 60 per cent, and from what I remember in Rome the figure for domestic visitors is 50 per cent. But the Budapest business model, the business model of tourism, is not like those in France and Italy: Budapest relies almost exclusively on foreigners. There are no campaigns, and there are no special deals for Hungarians, telling them that this is their capital, Budapest is the capital of your country, come to Budapest, visit Budapest. We haven’t been able to tell them that they don’t know this city as well as they could, and that we have special offers, we have services, we have accommodation, and so on and so forth. In the Budapest business model this is entirely absent. This isn’t my task, because it’s a business issue, but I’d encourage the people of Budapest – including the City Council – to change business models, or to launch another business model during the crisis. Otherwise the people of Budapest who work in catering and tourism won’t have jobs in these industries, because jobs relying entirely on foreigners can’t be sustained. And in this regard 2021 won’t be a better year than 2020 was. In 2021 I also expect to see a continued boom in domestic tourism, mostly outside the capital, while Budapest tourism, which relies exclusively on foreigners, will continue to suffer. Therefore we’ll need a special programme for the capital. We can only preserve the jobs of taxi drivers and those in the restaurant and hotel sector if we have a special Budapest programme.

The autumn session of Parliament is about to begin. Fourteen years ago, the autumn parliamentary session began with difficulty and a huge amount of strife, because that was when Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány’s “Őszöd speech” was leaked. I remember that back then tens of thousands of people gathered in Kossuth tér demanding the Government’s resignation. And then the people asked Viktor Orbán, as leader of the opposition, to take charge. But back then you refused, saying that the Government needed to be brought down through constitutional means. Interestingly, now that there’s a protest with five hundred people, the leaders of all the opposition parties are there, saying that the Government must be removed. What an interesting contrast.

Yes, that was a difficult moment, because dissatisfaction in the country skyrocketed, as nothing of the kind had ever happened in the history of Hungarian democracy – and not really even under the communists. A prime minister stood up in front of his own people – we’re talking about a speech behind closed doors – and said: “Well, Dear Comrades, we won the election by cheating. We cheated in several ways. First of all, we concealed the truth from the people. We spread lies with huge campaigns, promising all sorts of things. Now, Dear Comrades, we must do the opposite of all that. Pull yourselves together, because we’ll all have to take the rap for this.” This is what happened. This is what happened, peppered with some strong Hungarian language. Then the speech was leaked. And what happened then was not what every Hungarian believed should happen under normal circumstances. The Prime Minister didn’t say “Well, yes, this is what happened, those were my words, and the situation is no longer tenable. I cannot allow the country’s moral standards – including the moral standards of the country’s leadership and the moral standards of public life – to descend to such depths, and for what I did to become an acceptable part of politics. So now that this has been leaked, now that we’ve made this mistake, we must suffer the consequences.” This is what the country expected, but that’s not what happened. What people got was attacks by mounted police, people’s eyes shot out, beatings, and so forth. This is why Gergely Gulyás was right to tell the young people who are now protesting, or staging sit-ins, that they’re lucky that the Prime Minister isn’t Ferenc Gyurcsány, and that Hungary doesn’t have a left-wing government, because they would be beaten by mounted police and their eyes would be shot out. And this is literally the case. The situation was also difficult in that everyone expected the head of the country’s opposition – and I happened to be that person – to lead the dissent, and to immediately remedy this shameful situation, because it could not continue. And back then, I indeed needed to tell people that if we used unconstitutional methods to do that, then we’d be opening the floodgates to a series of political acts which would bring down any subsequent government by unconstitutional means whenever a difficult situation arose. And in the life of a country a variety of difficult situations arise. If in difficult situations it’s possible to use unconstitutional methods against governments, the result will be a succession of crises: there won’t be a life of calm, predictability, safety and security, but calamity after calamity. And while this seems to be a political issue, in reality it isn’t. It will be about your lives: there will be no reliable and predictable economic policy; there will be no family policy sustainable over a number of years, because programmes and policies will be dismantled together with governments. The country will find itself in a vicious circle, and so we mustn’t do this. I said that we must bring down the Government through constitutional means. The reply was, “Fine, but bring it down”. To this I said that we must win once, but we must win big. That is what we did in 2010, and that is how we won a two-thirds majority. Fortunately I was able to keep my word.

Thank you. You’ve been listening to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.