April 28, 2020 / 10:08 AM / a month ago

Hungary to ease lockdown restrictions, Magyar Nemzet says

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary’s government plans to ease the lockdown that has kept the country’s businesses shut and residents mostly at home since mid-March, according to the pro-government newspaper Magyar Nemzet, which published the outlines of the plans on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Military police officers patrol the deserted Heroes' Square as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Budapest, Hungary, April 6, 2020. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

Hungary has restricted public gatherings and shut down businesses during the novel coronavirus pandemic, like most other countries. It has avoided the massive toll in Italy and Spain, with 2,649 cases as of early Tuesday and 291 deaths in a population of 10 million people.

Consequently, it has built up a supply of protective gear and hospital technology like respirators. With the healthcare system prepared for an increase in the number of cases, a gradual opening is now possible, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said.

The loosening will begin early next month, Orban said on Friday, adding that he expected the economy to recover rapidly from the effects of the pandemic.

Hungary’s economic contraction this year is likely to be steeper than the government’s projection last month of 3%, Finance Minister Mihaly Varga told Reuters on Friday. Its budget-deficit goal of 3% of gross domestic product is “not carved in stone”, he added.

Starting next week, smaller retail outlets may open, Magyar Nemzet said, without naming its sources. Over the course of May, a gradual opening of hotels, restaurants and coffee shops may follow.

Everyone entering a business or restaurant must wear face protection of some kind, it said. The gradual opening may include longer opening hours and more kinds of shops allowed to open.

Food stores may have to calculate the safe maximum number of customers in the store at the same time. Stricter health protocols regulating restaurants and other businesses will probably be in place for the whole year.

Austria, which Orban has said is a model for his policies as it is further along the course of the epidemic, announced further easing on restrictions from April 30.

Magyar Nemzet is generally well-informed about government plans and almost always echoes the government’s opinions. A government spokesman was not immediately available to comment.

Reporting by Marton Dunai, editing by Larry King

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