Hungary PM imposes lockdown, sees coronavirus peak by July

by Reuters
Friday, 27 March 2020 10:37 GMT

* Two-week lockdown starts on Saturday

* Orban flags more economic stimulus for early April

* Seeks open-ended emergency powers (Adds German MP urging EU action over emergency powers law)

By Marton Dunai

BUDAPEST, March 27 (Reuters) - Hungary is imposing a two-week lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus epidemic, which is expected to peak in the country in June or July, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday.

Citizens will be allowed to go to work, shop and take limited exercise outside during the lockdown, which starts on Saturday, but should keep distance from each other, Orban said on public radio, adding that restrictions would be enforced by police.

The government, which along with the central bank has already taken steps to shore up growth, will present a post-outbreak action plan for the economy in the first or second week of April, he said, without giving details.

Hungary has recorded around 300 coronavirus cases and 10 deaths. Orban has said the actual number of cases is probably much higher.

"Restrictions put in place so far have been efficient," Orban said. "Hungarians reduced the magnitude of social contact (but) ... the decline has stopped, so we had to impose the movement restrictions."

In the lockdown decree published on Friday, citizens are also permitted to go on errands for the vulnerable, while those over 65 can only shop between 9:00 a.m. and noon and restaurants can only open for takeaway and home deliveries.

Orban's government has pushed for an open-ended extension of a state of emergency that would give it the right to bypass parliament. Legislators are due to vote on the measure next week.

German lawmaker Norbert Roettgen, a conservative ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel who chairs the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, called on EU authorities to intervene against that legislation.

"The (European) Commission has to act immediately," he told weekly magazine Der Spiegel.

Orban has progressively tightened his hold on power during his decade in office and critics say he is moving the country towards becoming an autocracy, an accusation he rejects.

($1 = 321.4100 forints) (Reporting by Marton Dunai; editing by John Stonestreet)

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