Shops and services will be closed from March 8th to March 22nd, while kindergartens and primary schools will stay closed until 7 April, Gergely Gulyás, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff announced at an online press conference.
Announcing the strict measures taken in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the minister said all stores would be closed from March 8 to March 22, except for food stores, pharmacies, drugstores and petrol stations.
Details of the new restrictions will be worked out by the operational unit, and proclaimed and published by the government within a few days.
From March 8 to March 22, all services will be suspended except for private healthcare, he added, noting that the detailed rules will be decided by the operational unit on Friday.
For kindergartens and schools, April 7 is the end of the spring break; the details of the online classes are being developed and published by the State Secretariat for Education of the Ministry of Human Capacities.
The rules for secondary schools and universities, which are currently working without personal attendance, remain unchanged.
Gergely Gulyás said that gyms must also be closed for two weeks, licensed athletes will be allowed to train and compete behind closed doors. Parks and arboretums will stay open, outdoor sports will also be allowed for activities in which people can maintain a safe distance of 1.5 metres.
The Minister pointed out that all employers should ensure that their employees can work from home wherever possible, particularly in the case of families with young children.
Mask-wearing remains mandatory everywhere outdoors; and Hungary will tighten passenger controls on its borders. He added, however, that freight and transit traffic will not be restricted.
Wage subsidies and tax cuts introduced for hotels and the hospitality industry will be extended to all sectors forced to shut down by the new measures for the period of the lockdown, from 8 to 22 March.
Gergely Gulyás stated that the government was discussing the epidemic situation at their meeting on both Wednesday and Thursday.
Speaking about the reasons for the government decision, he explained that mathematicians, doctors, experts, virologists had been consulted. "The numbers are clear," he said, pointing out the deteriorating data of the past three days, the number of deaths, new infections, and patients needing ventilation in particular.
The virus is spreading faster and faster, and the reproduction rate in Hungary is one of the highest in Europe.
The third wave is very strong, stronger than the second, which was already much stronger than the first. What is new in the third wave is that the vaccine is available and the vaccination is progressing well, he said, and added that Hungary is currently third in Europe regarding the inoculation rate, but will be at the top of the list in the EU by next week.
He also said, however, that the pace of the vaccination is not fast enough to prevent the spread of the virus, especially that of variants.
Vaccine procurements in Brussels are progressing slowly, and even the use of Eastern vaccines cannot ensure nationwide immunity in the next one or two weeks.
Only a drastic reduction in personal contact rates can be effective, he said, adding that experts and the operational unit were in full agreement on the necessity of the tight restrictions.
The Minister stated, "if we did not go into lockdown now, not only would the number of new infections and deaths increase radically, but it would also delay the reopening.” The lockdown is needed not only to protect people's lives and health, but also so that we can reopen the country and return to normal life as soon as possible, he said.
Gergely Gulyás emphasized that we have been living under unusual and previously unimaginable circumstances for a long time.
Hopefully, we are already in the last phase of the epidemic and we will reach vaccination levels within a few weeks or months that allow a reopening, he said. He added that the opening will begin from March 22, probably in a gradual manner.
He said it is crucial for the government to know people’s preferences regarding the details of the opening, so he is asking everyone to take part in the consultation on how to restart the country. After that, the government may decide on the reopening and its phases on March 17, and they can only take everyone's needs and opinions into consideration if many people complete the survey.
The minister stressed that the third wave of the epidemic "needs to be broken" and these are the measures by which this can be done. If everyone complies with them, the country may reopen and life may start again sooner, he said.