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World News

Hungary must boost economy as it faces second COVID wave - PM Orban

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary needs to kickstart its economy while fine-tuning rules to prepare for a second wave of the pandemic, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is seen as he departs from a meeting at the EU summit, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium July 20, 2020. REUTERS/Johanna Geron /Pool/Files

Orban told state radio that unlike in March, when all schools closed under a national lockdown, the government will keep classes open and decide on any closures on a case-by-case basis.

“We await the second wave fully armed,” Orban said. “We must not just keep the economy operational - we need to be able to boost the recovery.”

Gross domestic product data have shown a year-on-year contraction of 8.2%-13.6% in countries across central Europe. Hungary was the worst hit with its second-quarter GDP falling 13.6%.

Orban said the government would meet later in the day to discuss rules in order to “allow the greatest possible freedom with all the important restrictions”.

Hungary has closed its borders to foreigners since Sept. 1 to curb a rise in coronavirus cases. Returning Hungarian citizens can leave a 14-day quarantine only if they provide two negative COVID tests.

Subsequently, Hungary decided to exempt tourists visiting from three neighbouring states, provided they test negative for COVID-19 before arriving, prompting a rebuke from the European Commission.

As of Thursday, Hungary had reported 6,923 coronavirus cases with 620 deaths. The number of new cases has surged in recent days, just as Hungary started a new school year.

According to a presentation of epidemology experts working for the government, the virus was spreading mainly among young people, with the average age of infected at 32 1/2 years at the end of August.

The experts proposed banning bigger events, providing free testing, fast contact detection and making masks mandatory in closed spaces.

Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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