Hungary's 'real test' yet to come, PM says, as coronavirus cases jump

By Gergely Szakacs
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Hungary's 'real test' yet to come, PM says, as coronavirus cases jump

FILE PHOTO: Hungary's PM Orban takes part in an annual business conference in Budapest

By Gergely Szakacs

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary needs more ventilators and intensive care hospital beds as part of its efforts to weather the coronavirus crisis, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday, as the government reported the single biggest daily increase in infections.

Government data showed confirmed coronavirus cases jumped by 210 to 1,190 over the past 24 hours, and the death toll now stands at 77.

The crisis has presented Orban with the toughest challenge to his decade-long rule. His response - to rule by decree indefinitely - has drawn criticism from the European Union.

"It seems as if other countries are already peeking out (of the crisis), as if there was already light at the end of the tunnel," Orban told public radio in an interview. "For now, I do not see this in Hungary."

"We have won time, we have been defending ourselves well, but the real test is yet to come," Orban said, adding that Hungary appeared to be heading towards a period of mass infections and it would be difficult to avert such an outcome.

Orban's government prolonged a nationwide lockdown indefinitely on Thursday to slow the spread of the coronavirus, asking citizens to respect restrictions on free movement despite the Easter holiday weekend.

Orban said about a fifth of hospital workers could get infected with the virus, which he said was in line with international experience.

Hungary will need to have ramped up its stock of ventilators and intensive care hospital beds to 8,000 by the peak of the crisis, Orban said, adding that it usually had about 2,000 available in "normal times".


"RED LINE" ON DEFICIT

Hungary is also training medical students to be able to assist in intensive care units, Orban said.

Friday's jump in cases included 151 infections in an old people's home in Budapest, of whom seven people have so far died, the latest government tally showed.

It said the number of infections could increase further still in the facility, which has a capacity of more than 500 people, as laboratory tests were still being conducted.

Nearly half of Hungary's confirmed cases of coronavirus are in the capital Budapest, the tally showed.

Despite the crisis, Hungary should not let its budget deficit exceed 3% of economic output, Orban said, calling the European Union's ceiling on state finances a "red line" that should not be crossed.

"Those taking on too much debt now will find themselves hung in a few months' time, when the first big wave of the crisis will be behind us," Orban said.

Orban's comments put him at odds with his finance minister, Mihaly Varga, who told public radio late last month that Hungary should not stick doggedly to the 3% deficit limit if rebooting the economy required additional action.


(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Gareth Jones)