Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s statement in Parliament, responding to reactions to his address before the start of daily business
16 March 2020, Budapest

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I’d like to make about twenty comments regarding what we’ve just heard. Firstly, I’d like to express my gratitude for the positive comments; secondly, however, I’d like to express my disappointment at the fact that there are still people here who fail to understand the situation, and who are unable to rise above their party-political considerations. In particular I must categorically reject the claim that the Government of Hungary is responsible for not preventing the virus from breaking into Hungary. Let’s stop that nonsense, because we cannot cooperate or work together on that basis.

As regards the funds necessary for healthcare defence measures, there could be some misunderstanding. Please read the relevant provisions again: there is an unlimited budget allocation, with no upper limit. So there’s no need for me to itemise how much money is required for containment measures, and when; I have opened a budget allocation, an allocation with no upper limit, and all the funding needed for defence against the virus is available and will be made available. I said this publicly, but now I’ll repeat it: not only are all budgetary resources for defence against the virus available, but they’re available rapidly and immediately. Our number one priority is protective items for healthcare workers, especially in light of the fact that in China 4 per cent of healthcare workers involved in containment measures have been infected, while in Italy the corresponding figure is 10 per cent. So we must prepare for the possibility that to some extent the same will happen here. If those people drop out of the care system their jobs will have to be done by others. Therefore it is in our elementary interest that primarily healthcare workers have access to protective equipment. I haven’t mentioned this so far, but this morning I also issued an order that those studying in healthcare-related higher education should also be regarded as healthcare workers. This means that – just like all other healthcare workers in the country – they are not allowed to leave the country, and they can be called up and instructed to take part in the work. The same measure applies to police personnel, meaning that police cadets have been recruited. Today we have extended this to health care.

Regarding the question of what workers can do to preserve their jobs, I’d like to say that they should agree with their employers as soon possible on what changes they are able to accept. So I’m asking all – I repeat, all – employers and all employees in Hungary to make a personal effort to preserve jobs, and to come to an agreement, as we’ve seen happening in situations like this elsewhere and earlier in Hungary. A rapid rise in unemployment will not be an unusual or extraordinary situation for us: as I remember, in 2010 the unemployment rate in Hungary was 12 per cent, while today it is under 3 per cent. But the reason for this is that one must move in exactly the opposite direction to the one suggested by you. I don’t want to start a debate here, because we’ve heard that all this is my fault – and perhaps also the fault of the virus. So when you claim that everything is my fault I don’t want to engage in debates with you about economic policy. I’d just point out that the logic of our job protection action plan is the very opposite of what you’ve just said. Our concept is that measures should be implemented which help to keep people in employment: we must assist employers’ ability to keep their employees. So we must provide assistance so that people don’t lose their jobs. Although there may be a need for something like it later, our goal is not to reimburse them for lost income, but to implement measures which enable people to stay in employment. I’d like to underline that this is how we have reduced unemployment in Hungary from 12 per cent to 3 per cent. There may be some who remember that we launched a job protection action plan in 2010, which – specifically with the reduction of contributions, and with other measures – helped employers draw up agreements with workers and keep people in employment. The German system, the “Kurzarbeit” – or short-time working – system which they’re also now introducing, is based on the very same logic. So let’s not think about how to compensate people who lose their jobs; let’s think first and foremost about how to prevent people losing their jobs. I’m working to ensure that everyone has jobs.

Undoubtedly there could be – and I’m sure there will be – situations in which parents are unable to supervise their children. I’d like to make it clear that the reason we haven’t closed schools, but have instead announced a new teaching approach and procedure, is so that we can assist them in these situations. This is why this morning every single school principal has had to go into their school to organise supervision in small groups for the children of parents who are unable to take care of them. In other words, we are continuing to offer child supervision services in schools.

With the permission of my fellow Member of Parliament Bertalan Tóth, I won’t start a debate about centralisation. I believe that at present the fact that the healthcare and education systems in Hungary function in a centralised manner is a blessing rather than a problem, because I think this makes it easier for us to cope with the crisis than would be the case in a decentralised system. It is no accident that everywhere around the world the first step in crisis management is to use centralisation to improve the effectiveness of central government. This is what is available to us. Okay, the government is responsible for everything; but all I ask is that we don’t forget about the role of the virus in this.

As regards the Hungarian Medical Chamber, we are familiar with their recommendations, we acknowledge them, and we will implement those which we can.

I would also like to thank Mrs. Czunyi-Bertalan, because we are changing over to digital education as we speak – although we had planned to take this step one year later. So there will be glitches, but we can make the changeover. It is possible because over the past two years our fellow Member of Parliament has done an excellent job in preparing for it. Thank you.

Regarding the demolition of health care since 2010, which is a permanently recurring political topic, I’d just like to say that it’s a strange form of demolition in which one spends an annual 770 billion forints more on health care than in the previous period. So let me underline and repeat: every year we’re spending 770 billion forints more on health care than earlier governments ever did during their terms in office.

I cannot accept Jobbik’s proposal that we should halt projects currently in progress. We had to allocate funds to several ongoing projects in order to prevent them from being halted. I want the exact opposite. I don’t want austerity measures. This crisis cannot be managed through austerity. I understand that you’ve all suggested austerity measures; so far everyone who has spoken has recommended austerity measures. Naturally if we don’t keep people in employment, but – instead of their employers – we want to pay their wages, that will eventually lead to austerity. Everyone should be aware of this. This is not what I’m proposing. There won’t be austerity measures, but instead there will be support for growth. We want to do the opposite of what you propose: we will create stimulus, there will be growth, we will support projects, we will keep people in work. We will not enact austerity measures. We cannot accept that. Therefore in the upcoming period we will provide additional budgetary funding to every project already under way which requires it.

I think we should be thankful that the post of health minister is held by Professor Kásler, because he is a former hospital director: he knows precisely how things work in hospitals, and what orders and measures are needed for things to carry on in hospitals in an acceptable way.

As regards the point about EU funding, I heard about that myself. I hope that they will give it to us rather than take it from us, but at this point we know nothing about that for certain. It is certainly doesn’t seem to be good news for there to be money flows at the expense of the Cohesion Fund; they may be for our benefit, but the Cohesion Fund would be reduced. So we will have to proceed with due caution.

Let’s test more, let’s conduct more tests – this is what we’re doing. I don’t want to deliver a virology lecture here, but I’d like to point out that the nature of the virus is that it’s impossible to completely screen for it. After a test there’s only one point at which we can be certain about the presence of infection: once the antibody has already appeared in the human body. Until it appears, the accuracy of testing – and estimates vary – is somewhere between 50 and 70 per cent. So today we may well test someone, the result may be negative, but that person may be infected after all; we may test them again tomorrow, and the result will still be negative; but then on the third day there it is. Therefore all we can achieve with this testing is to trace the people who have come into contact with someone who is infected and who has immunity because the antibody is in their system. This is how testing helps, and this is why we do it. But I’d like to dispel the illusion that we could prevent the disease by testing people more frequently. That is not true. All we can do is more rapidly identify infections that have already occurred. This is very important. This is why I agree that tests should be accelerated, but let me repeat: regrettably that will not result in greater certainty. This is why we say that screening for the virus is physically not possible. So do not hold us to account over screening, because the specific features of the virus mean that it cannot be screened for. We can conduct tests, and with these tests we are able to identify infection at a certain stage in its development. But I don’t think that this is the Prime Minister’s responsibility. If you have any questions on the details related to virology, I ask you to direct them to the Minister of Human Capacities, who fortunately happens to be a former hospital director, as I’ve mentioned.

As regards communication, I’d like to point out that the Government’s communication will continue to focus on people. Therefore I ask everyone to refrain from provoking – either openly or underhandedly – those working on containment efforts, including members of the Government.

There will be hard times ahead: much harder than those we’ve seen so far. We have little knowledge, but what we have is alarming. In Austria, for instance, the number of cases rose from 30 to 500 in just eight days, and I believe that there were more than 800 by this morning. So the speed at which the disease is spreading is not linear: it will not spread as it has done up to now, but at an accelerating rate. This is why the worst is yet to come, the real problems are about to start, and now we will have to stand our ground. The truly difficult period is about to start.

I have seen some crises. I can tell you that at times like this it is understandable that people are nervous, perhaps even confused, but at any rate uncertain. The leaders of a country naturally have different degrees of responsibility, as we’ve heard, given that the responsibility of Members of Parliament is different from that of the Government. But to some extent we’re all leaders of the country, and I know from experience that at times like this there is a need for calm, composure and determination. The bigger the problem, the more calm, composure and determination is needed. This is also what I expect from you.

Thank you very much.