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Health

Orban given special powers as Hungary locks down against COVID surge

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian lawmakers on Tuesday granted Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government a special 90-day mandate to rule by decree in an effort to curb a spiking coronavirus pandemic, and they approved new restrictions amounting to a partial lockdown.

FILE PHOTO: A healthcare worker collects a swab sample from a man at a COVID-19 testing site as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Budapest, Hungary, October 27, 2020. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

Hungary’s government reported 103 new COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, making it the third hardest hit country in Europe in terms of deaths per 100,000 people over the past 14 days, behind the Czech Republic and Belgium, European Union data showed.

Orban, signalling a shift away from his policy of avoiding tough restrictions in order to protect the economy, announced a limited lockdown from 12:01 a.m. (2301 GMT) on Wednesday to avoid hospitals being overwhelmed.

“If we all work together we can make it through once more,” the conservative nationalist premier wrote on Facebook.

Under the partial lockdown, to run for 30 days pending review, secondary schools will close and a curfew will be in place from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. Gatherings of all kinds, even of families exceeding 10 people, are banned.

The opposition has accused his government of wasting months between the pandemic’s first and second wave by failing to equip Hungary with adequate testing and health care capacity, leaving the nation struggling to cope with a renewed spread of COVID-19.

The government has said there are enough beds, equipment and manpower to manage the situation.

The Hungarian Medical Chamber said the availability of protective gear was largely adequate, but that the rescheduling of some elective surgery was unlikely to be enough to ensure staff can cope with the rising number of coronavirus cases.

The special powers granted by parliament to Orban’s government are limited in time and scope, unlike a springtime authorisation that was open ended and left Orban under fire at home and abroad for perceived authoritarianism.

“This time it really only contains the necessary extent of measures for a set period of time,” said Gergely Arato, a deputy of the oppposition liberal leftist Democratic Coalition.

The PDSZ teachers’ union, which has urged parents to keep their children at home to help protect teachers and parents from contagion, said Orban’s latest measures were a step in the right direction but probably insufficient.

A record number of 461 COVID-19 patients were on ventilators as of Tuesday morning, the government said.

Reporting by Budapest bureau; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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