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Hungary will institute a state of emergency from midnight on Tuesday, imposing a nightly curfew to combat a coronavirus wave that threatens to test hospital capacity, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said.
“It is time to take new steps to protect the health of hospitals and the lives of older people,” Orban said in a video posted on his Facebook page.
A so-called “special legal order” – a state of emergency that enables government to rule by decree – will come into effect on Tuesday at midnight, he added.
“We need to put political debates aside, we need quick action and timely action,” Orban said, pointing to the risk that hospitals could reach their capacity by mid-December.
Parliament is being asked to extend the state of emergency by 90 days, and there will be a curfew from Wednesday between midnight and 5 a.m., Orban said.
Other measures taken on Tuesday include a third seat only rule and the mandatory wearing of masks for visitors to sports, entertainment and venues with heavy fines and the possible closure of sites for non-compliance.
The cases in Hungary in the last few weeks have exceeded the values recorded in spring. More Hungarians died in October than in the last four months combined.
On Tuesday, Hungary reported 84 new deaths from COVID-19 every day, bringing the country’s total death toll to 1,973, while the number of coronavirus patients in hospitals reached 4,767.
Seven-day average data from the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC) shows Hungary had the third highest COVID-19 death rate per million in the bloc on Tuesday after the Czech Republic and Belgium.
In March, Orban imposed a relatively quick lockdown compared to many European countries, which helped Hungary keep the number of deaths and infections low.
At that time, a state of emergency with no time limit was introduced, which sparked widespread fears of an authoritarian takeover. However, the legislation was repealed and restrictions eased by June.
The opposition parties nevertheless accused Orban of having abused the regulatory deadline to deprive the opposition-led communities of revenue and powers.
During the second wave of the virus, apart from closing the country’s borders, Orban has resisted growing calls for tighter restrictions as schools remain open and crowds are allowed in football stadiums.
“People want Hungary to continue functioning, the economy and life must be protected,” he said in September.
Last week, the Hungarian Medical Association warned Orban to take further measures to prevent a “humanitarian and health disaster”.
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© 2020 AFP
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