Coronavirus Roundup: Mass Testing Launched for Social Institutions


Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said the launch of targeted, mass COVID-19 testing would be the “biggest task of the week” in a video message posted on his Facebook page on November 23. The government is launching mass coronavirus testing of staff in schools, hospitals and social institutions such as nursing homes.

“We’re fighting in our schools and in our kindergartens so we won’t have to close them,” Orbán said after a meeting of the Operative Corps, the body coordinating Hungary’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Other social developments regarding the coronavirus include the reintroduction of dedicated shopping times for the elderly. The decree designates the periods between 9-11 a.m. on weekdays, and between 8-10 a.m. on weekends, as dedicated to people 65 and over in supermarkets, pharmacies and stores that sell fast-moving consumer goods. Pensioners are allowed to shop at other times, but no one under 65 can shop during the reserved hours.

Addressing the matter of a proposal by the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MKIK) to suspend the local business tax and reduce the corporate tax rate, Orbán told Kossuth Rádió in a weekly interview on November 20, that the climb would be steep but necessary. He said financing central government or local government expenditures is “secondary” to preserving jobs.

“We have to cut taxes in any case, because if we don’t cut taxes there won’t be jobs,” he said. Currently, the government has exempted companies operating in the hospitality and leisure sector from paying the employer’s tax burden, which, in addition to providing about HUF 5 billion in tax relief to those affected in November, also ensures the retention of their work and the payment of their November wages, said State Secretary for Taxation Norbert Izer, of the Ministry of Finance.

Take Away VAT

Additionally, the government has decided to reduce the VAT rate on take-out food to 5%, level with the rate for dining-in at restaurants. This certainly serves to benefit food delivery services, for which, according to the forecast of the national food order portal, the number of food orders will increase significantly during the second wave, writes Világgazdaság.

During the initial quarantine period, the number of new subscribers to the portal increased by 59%, and although the trend slowed during the summer decline, the number of new users has increased by an additional 10% in the past five months.

Online commerce also saw a 40-50% surplus in online commerce measured as an almost immediate temporary effect of the restrictive measures, Balázs Várkonyi, managing director of eMAG Hungary and Extreme Digital, told Világgazdaság (Global Economy).

A sample of 10 doses of Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Budapest so Hungarian experts could start studying the vaccine in order to make the best decision on its possible use and licensing, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó said on his Facebook page on November 19.

The next day, Russian news agency TASS said Hungary could become the first country in the European Union where the Russian COVID-19 vaccine is produced, citing a statement by the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

Hungary has also pre-ordered about 12 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca, Janssen and Pfizer, according to Gergely Gulyás, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office. Meanwhile, another one million tablets of favipiravir, used to treat COVID-19 patients, arrived in Hungary from China, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó said in a video message posted on his Facebook page on November 25.

Hungary has so far taken delivery of 4.8 million tablets of favipiravir, including 2.8 million from China and 2 million from Japan, Szijjártó said.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of November 27, 2020.



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