Coronavirus Roundup: Restrictions Extended but is That Light at the end of the Tunnel?

History

“Stay-at-home” restrictions due to the coronavirus outbreak were extended by the government for another week from April 18, with Gergely Gulyás, the head of the Prime Ministerʼs Office, saying at an online press conference that the situation will be reviewed again at the government meeting due as we went to print (Wednesday, April 22), which will become the general practice from now on.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister himself spoke about his expectations regarding the progression of the epidemic. Viktor Orbán said in an interview with broadcaster Maria Radio that the country would reach “full self-defense capability” on May 3, when the COVID-19 epidemic is expected to peak in Hungary, after which time a gradual return to normal routines would be possible.  

Although no figures have been officially released yet, according to government signals, the number of unemployed increased by at least 30,000 in March, leaving the number of unemployed at 300,000 at the end of last month, says portfolio.hu.

Additionally, GKI Economic Research Zrt. expects forced leave and dismissals to increase in the next three months, saying that, among companies with more than five employees, another 90,000-100,000 people could lose their jobs, after at least 50,000-60,000 people were laid off last month.

As Minister of Finance Mihály Varga stressed, job retention is of the utmost importance and to that end the Hungarian government has announced that it will take over 70% of the wages of employees who have been furloughed or moved onto reduced work hours, in an attempt to prevent mass redundancies. Support for the furloughed workforce, also known as kurzarbeit (“short-time working”), first came to prominence in Germany during the financial crisis that began in 2008.

Businesses can apply for job protection wage subsidies through the Economic Protection Action Plan, according to origo.hu. The support period can be three months, but the employer must undertake to keep the number of employees for at least one month after the application is submitted and to maintain them for at least one month after the final payment.

Simplified Application

The Ministry of Innovation and Technology, announced that the application process for job protection wage support will be simplified and the number of beneficiaries will be expanded. Those affected can apply for the support easily and quickly by filling in the forms available at https://nfsz.munka.hu/.

Despite the precarious economic environment, there is still some light in the darkness, as some firms have adjusted their operations to support the fight against the disease, while others are on the verge of returning to operation.

For the past three weeks MOL has been producing disinfectants at one of its plants, delivering nearly 500,000 liters to institutions designated by the Operations Council, writes portfolio.hu. Some 45,000 liters arrived at the Chemical Defense Battalion of the Hungarian Defense Forces in Székesfehérvár (65 km southwest of Budapest), while MOL has delivered 42,000 liters of hand and surface disinfectants to the State Healthcare Center, and MÁV Zrt. received 24,000 liters.

Győr-based (120 km west of Budapest) Graboplast is working in similar vein and producing 50,000-80,000 products per day of hand and object disinfectants. This particular disinfectant takes the form of a gel, but the company also produces self-disinfecting floor and wall coverings. Even Pizza King Express is re-appropriating its resources, hiring unemployed seamstresses to sew facemasks for delivery.

Speaking of German-origin and Győr-based firms, Audi Hungaria partially restarted production last week the company told state news agency MTI. Work restarted at the engine plant, with a single shift of 100 workers at an assembly line for six-cylinder engines, although the company said it would take several weeks to ramp back up to full production.

Several other automotive manufacturers have also started the process, with Hankook in Rácalmás (68 km south of Budapest) having already started and Suzuki in Esztergom (45 km northwest of Budapest) resuming production from April 27 and Mercedes in Kecskemét (88 km southeast of Budapest) from April 28.

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