Hungary to close borders to foreigners from September 1

By bne IntelliNews August 30, 2020

Hungary will close its borders to foreigners from September 1, while Hungarians returning from a foreign country must produce two negative coronavirus (COVID-19) tests, 48 hours apart, to be exempted from a mandatory 14-day quarantine, chief cabinet minister Gergely Gulyas announced on August 28.

The weekly press briefing was in danger of being cancelled after the head of the Prime Minister's Office went into quarantine on Wednesday after meeting with the Fidesz communications chief, who tested positive for coronavirus. However, the cabinet meeting was held according to plan after he produced a second negative test on Friday.

Exceptions to the ban on entry by foreigners will be made for convoys of soldiers, businesspeople, cross-border commuters and transit traffic.

The latest measures mark a return to restrictions in place during the initial wave of COVID-19 infections in the spring and were warranted because of the rising number of new cases, Gulyas noted.

Hungary has seen a spike in new infections in the past few days. Over the summer period the daily figures were below 40. The number of new cases reached 132 on Friday, 158 on Saturday and an all-time high of 292 on Sunday.

The country's chief medical officer said that Hungary has entered the second phase of the pandemic.

The government is not planning to introduce stay-at-home orders as during the first wave, Gulyas said, but mask-wearing in shops and on public transport will be more strictly controlled.

Government officials said the new travel restrictions are necessary to avoid the import of the pandemic and protect the elderly and most vulnerable, as well as students returning to classrooms on Tuesday.

Hungarian elementary and secondary schools will be opening across the country as planned but will have to follow strict guidelines. It will be up to institutions whether to make mask-wearing mandatory in classrooms. 

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in a recent interview that digital education has had its positives, but studies show that one out of ten students tuned out.

Football matches are still open to public

Despite the deteriorating pandemic situation, the government is not planning to ban entrance to football matches. Since the end of June, spectators have been free to attend games observing social distancing rules. 

The decision has stirred controversy as all outdoor gatherings and concerts with more than 500 people are banned. Opposition parties and the music industry are calling this a blatant example of double-standards.

For most of Hungarians, this comes as no surprise as Orban is known for his love for the game. As an avid fan he is regularly seen at matches of his favourite team Videoton and that of his home village Felcsut. This year both teams played qualification rounds in the European League.

Hungarian officials are also making preparations for organising the Super Cup. UEFA's executive committee a week ago allowed the game between Champions League winner Bayern Munich and European Cup titleholder Seville to be played on September 24 in Budapest with a reduced number of spectators, around 20,000, in the Puskas Ferenc Arena. 

"We hope to use the game as a pilot that will begin to see the return of fans to our matches," UEFA said in a statement.

Hungarian officials said that 6,000 supporters from each team would be allowed to enter the country with a negative test. Arrangements are being made to escort them to the stadium and back to the airport after the game but the UEFA has yet to make its stance on that proposal clear.

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