Pope Francis Calls For ‘Openness’ After Meeting Hungary’s Orban

Pope Francis arrives to attend a meeting with Bishops at the Apostolic Nunciature in Bratislava, Slovakia, on September 12, 2021. – The Pope embarks on September 12 on his 34th international trip for a three-day visit to Slovakia for meetings with the country’s President, the Jewish and Roma communities. (Photo by REMO CASILLI / POOL / AFP)

 

Pope Francis met Hungary’s anti-migration Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Sunday before calling on pilgrims to be “open” and “considerate” at an open-air Mass in Budapest.

The head of 1.3 billion Catholics has often urged help for the marginalised and those of all religions fleeing war and poverty, in contrast to Orban who styles himself as a defender of “Christian Europe” from immigrants.

The pope told tens of thousands thronging the vast Heroes’ Square in Budapest that he wanted them to be “grounded and open, rooted and considerate”.

Thousands more crowded a nearby main boulevard, along which screens and loudspeakers had been set up, while others watched from nearby balconies and other buildings.

“I think the pope never says anything without reason. His words are well chosen and carry a subtle message,” Zsuzsanna Pusztai, a 75-year-old retiree, told AFP.

– ‘Anti-Christian’ jibes –

The pope, in Hungary to close the International Eucharistic Congress, met Orban and other senior politicians behind closed doors in Budapest’s Fine Arts Museum.

“I asked Pope Francis not to let Christian Hungary perish,” Orban posted on his Facebook page following a photo of the two shaking hands.

As a present, he gave the pontiff a copy of a letter written by King Bela IV to Pope Innocent IV in 1250 asking for help against Mongol warriors who threatened Christian Hungary.

The Vatican described the meeting as “cordial”, saying the men discussed environmental protection and the promotion of the family among other topics.

Over the past few years, there has been no love lost between Orban supporters in Hungary and the leader of the Catholic world.

Pro-Orban media and political figures have launched barbs at the pontiff calling him “anti-Christian” for his pro-refugee sentiments.

The pope spent just seven hours in Hungary before flying off to Slovakia for a trip that lasts four days in total.

– Migrant rows –

The Argentine regularly reminds “old Europe” that its culture and society was built on waves of new arrivals.

Earlier in the day, he told Hungarian bishops that various ethnic and religious groups had “transformed this country into a multicultural environment”, presenting a “great opportunity”.

In contrast, Orban’s signature crusade against migration has included border fences and detention camps for asylum-seekers.

Orban’s supporters point instead to state-funded aid agency “Hungary Helps” which works to rebuild churches and schools in war-torn Syria, and sends doctors to Africa.

Orban’s critics, however, accuse him of using Christianity as a shield to deflect criticism and a sword to attack opponents while targeting vulnerable minorities like migrants.

Days before the pope’s arrival posters appeared on the streets of the Hungarian capital — where the city council is controlled by the anti-Orban opposition — reading “Budapest welcomes the Holy Father” and showing his quotes including pleas for solidarity and tolerance towards minorities.

– Health concerns –

It is the first papal trip to Hungary since Pope John Paul II in 1996.

The 84-year-old pontiff’s 34th foreign trip comes two months after a colon operation that required a general anaesthetic and a 10-day convalescence in hospital.

Meeting Christian and Jewish leaders earlier in the day, Pope Francis warned of “the threat of antisemitism still lurking in Europe and elsewhere”.

During that speech he remained seated, apologising that “I’m not 15”.

Hungary’s 100,000-strong Jewish community is one the largest in Central Europe.

But Orban has regularly been accused of running anti-Semitic campaigns with posters depicting Hungary-born financier George Soros as a puppet master controlling the EU’s migration policy.

Pro-Orban media has even described the pontiff as the “Soros Pope” for his support for refugees.

AFP

Pope Francis To Visit Hungary, Slovakia In September


Pope Francis delivers the Sunday Angelus prayer from the window of his study overlooking St.Peter’s Square at the Vatican on July 4, 2021. Andreas SOLARO / AFP

 

Pope Francis said Sunday he would visit Hungary and Slovakia from September 12 to 15, including celebrating a mass in Hungarian capital Budapest.

“I’m happy to announce that from September 12 to 15… I will go to Slovakia for a pastoral visit,” Francis told pilgrims gathered on Rome’s St Peter’s Square for his traditional Sunday prayer.

He added that he would celebrate the closing mass of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest on September 12.

Francis’ visit to Slovakia will include the cities of Bratislava, Presov, Kosice and Sastin, the Vatican said in a statement.

READ ALSO: Boeing 737 Cargo Makes Emergency Landing On Water


Pope Francis delivers the Sunday Angelus prayer from the window of his study overlooking St.Peter’s Square on July 4, 2021. Andreas SOLARO / AFP

 

Although more detailed plans for the trip will be announced later, there was no sign the pope intends to meet Hungary’s political leaders during his stop in Budapest.

AFP

UEFA Launch Probe Into ‘Discriminatory Incidents’ During Germany-Hungary Match

Germany’s forward Kai Havertz scores during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group F football match between Germany and Hungary at the Allianz Arena in Munich on June 23, 2021. (Photo by Matthias Hangst / POOL / AFP)

 

 

UEFA announced on Friday it had launched an investigation into “potential discriminatory incidents” during Germany’s 2-2 draw with Hungary which was overshadowed by a row over a new Hungarian anti-LGBTQ law.

European football’s governing body did not specify in its statement what incidents were being investigated during the Euro 2020 match in Munich, which finished with the Germans qualifying for the last 16 and Hungary going out of the competition.

However, a UEFA spokesperson told AFP that the probe regards “incidents and behaviour in the stands”.

German daily Bild reported that Hungary supporters — who are already being investigated for monkey chants during their team’s 1-1 draw with France in Budapest — directed anti-gay chants at Germany fans before kick-off on Wednesday.

An AFP journalist saw fans of both teams, including German wearing rainbow colours, locked in angry exchanges which led to police intervening.

The match build-up had been dominated by UEFA’s refusal to allow the city of Munich to light the Allianz Arena in rainbow colours in solidarity with Hungary’s LGBTQ community.

UEFA and the government of Hungary came under a hail of criticism after Budapest’s new anti-LGBTQ law and the football body’s refusal to light the Munich stadium.

Fans came to the game in rainbow colours, and one German supporter invaded the pitch with a rainbow flag during the Hungarian national anthem.

Germany VS Hungary Euro 2020 Starting Line-Ups

Starting line-ups for the Euro 2020 Group F game between Germany and Hungary.

 

 

Starting line-ups for the Euro 2020 Group F game between Germany and Hungary at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday (kick-off 1900 GMT):

Germany (3-4-3)

Manuel Neuer (capt); Matthias Ginter, Mats Hummels, Antonio Ruediger; Joshua Kimmich, Ilkay Gundogan, Toni Kroos, Robin Gosens; Kai Havertz, Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sane

Coach: Joachim Loew (GER)

Hungary (3-5-2)

Peter Gulacsi; Attila Szalai, Willi Orban, Endre Botka; Attila Fiola, Andras Schafer, Adam Nagy, Laszlo Kleinheisler, Loic Nego; Roland Sallai, Adam Szalai (capt)

Coach: Marco Rossi (ITA)

Referee: Sergei Karasev (RUS)

UEFA Refuses To Light Munich Stadium In Rainbow Colours For Germany-Hungary Match

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 28, 2020 shows the UEFA logo at the organization's headquarters in Nyon. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
In this file photo taken on February 28, 2020 shows the UEFA logo at the organization’s headquarters in Nyon. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

UEFA on Tuesday rejected plans by the city of Munich to light the Allianz Arena in rainbow colours for the Germany-Hungary Euro 2020 match in support of the LGBT community and to protest at a law passed by the Hungarian government.

“UEFA is a politically and religiously neutral organisation,” said European football’s governing body in a statement ahead of Wednesday’s match.

“Given the political context of this request — a message aimed at a decision taken by the Hungarian national parliament — UEFA must refuse.”

The mayor of Munich, Dieter Reiter, had wanted the stadium in rainbow colours for the crucial Group F match to “send a visible sign of solidarity” with Hungary’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

Hungary’s right-wing government last week passed a law banning the “promotion” of homosexuality to minors, outlawing any educational programmes or material in which homosexuality is mentioned.

On Monday, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto claimed that plans to light the Munich stadium in rainbow colours was “harmful and dangerous”.

While UEFA have rejected the request for the day of the match, it has suggested alternative dates for June 28, which is Christopher Street Liberation Day, or from July 3-9, the week of gay pride in Munich.

The last European Championship match in Munich takes place on July 2.

Tensions are running high on and off the pitch.

Hungary need a win to have a chance of reaching the last 16, while hosts Germany know just a draw would secure a spot in the knockout phase.

AFP

Euro 2020: Antoine Griezmann Rescues France With 1-1 Draw Against Hungary

France’s forward Antoine Griezmann scores his team’s first goal during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group F football match between Hungary and France at Puskas Arena in Budapest on June 19, 2021. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / POOL / AFP)

 

 

Antoine Griezmann salvaged a 1-1 draw for France against Hungary in Budapest as the world champions missed the chance to clinch a place in the Euro 2020 last 16 on Saturday.

Hungary threatened to blow Group F wide open when Attila Fiola gave the hosts a shock lead in first-half stoppage time after catching out the France defence.

But Griezmann, the Golden Boot winner at Euro 2016, equalised on 66 minutes as an unconvincing France avoided a first competitive defeat since June 2019.

Didier Deschamps’ side top the section with four points, one above reigning champions Portugal who play Germany in Munich later. Hungary earned their first point and the Germans are bottom after losing to France in their opener.

 

(L-R) France’s forward Antoine Griezmann, France’s forward Kylian Mbappe and France’s forward Karim Benzema prepare for a free kick during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group F football match between Hungary and France at Puskas Arena in Budapest on June 19, 2021. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / POOL / AFP)

 

France stay in Budapest for their final game against Portugal, while Hungary travel to Munich to take on Germany, still hoping to qualify for the knockout phase for a second straight tournament.

Contending with stifling temperatures in excess of 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) and a crowd approaching 60,000 at the Puskas Arena, the only Euro 2020 venue without capacity restrictions due to Covid-19, France controlled much of the first half.

Having lived up to their billing as tournament favourites in a 1-0 win over Germany, France dominated Hungary early on, creating numerous chances against a side that held out for 84 minutes before losing 3-0 to Portugal.

Peter Gulacsi clawed away Karim Benzema’s low drive, reacting sharply to keep out Griezmann’s follow-up, despite the Barcelona star being flagged for offside.

Lucas Digne, brought into the side for Lucas Hernandez as the only change made by France coach Deschamps, then picked out an unmarked Kylian Mbappe whose glancing header flashed narrowly wide.

Hungary lost captain Adam Szalai to injury midway through the first half, and the hosts were living dangerously as Benzema sliced badly from a superb flick by Mbappe before the Paris Saint-Germain forward dragged wide himself.

France captain Hugo Lloris had warned of over confidence against a team expected to finish bottom of the group, and Les Bleus were punished for a brief lapse just before half-time.

 

 

France’s forward Antoine Griezmann (R) celebrates scoring his team’s first goal with his teammates during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group F football match between Hungary and France at Puskas Arena in Budapest on June 19, 2021. (Photo by BERNADETT SZABO / POOL / AFP)

Fiola collected Adam Nagy’s crossfield ball and played a one-two with Roland Sallai, outpacing Benjamin Pavard and holding off Raphael Varane to side-foot beyond Lloris at his near post.

Deschamps had waited until the 89th minute before making a substitute in the opener against Germany, but the introduction of Ousmane Dembele for Adrien Rabiot on the hour nearly brought an immediate equaliser as the Barcelona forward rattled the post.

France pulled level when a long kick upfield by Lloris sailed over the head of Nagy, with Mbappe latching onto it ahead of Hungary’s Paris-born Loic Nego.

His ball across goal was deflected into Griezmann’s path by Willi Orban, allowing the forward to slam in his seventh European Championship goal.

Gulacsi produced a fine save to turn away a fierce shot from Mbappe as France pressed for a victory that would have sent them through to the knockout phase. Instead, they must wait until Wednesday’s clash with Portugal.

 

 

Hungary fans cheer prior to the UEFA EURO 2020 Group F football match between Hungary and France at Puskas Arena in Budapest on June 19, 2021. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / POOL / AFP)

 

France fans cheer prior to the UEFA EURO 2020 Group F football match between Hungary and France at Puskas Arena in Budapest on June 19, 2021. (Photo by BERNADETT SZABO / POOL / AFP)

Hungary Opts Out Of New EU Vaccine Contract

File: Matyas BORSOS / AFP.

 

Hungary has opted out of the latest EU contract to purchase the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine after sealing early deals for supplies of jabs from Russia and China, a minister said Thursday.

“We do not wish to take part in the new European joint vaccine purchasing procedure,” said Gergely Gulyas, minister in Orban’s office.

He told reporters that half of Hungary’s 9.8 million-strong population had already received at least one anti-Covid-19 dose and the country still had plenty of vaccines in reserve.

“If we have to vaccinate the population again in the autumn, Hungary will be ready,” Gulyas added.

EU commission chief Ursula von der Leyen announced the latest deal to buy up to 1.8 billion doses from US pharma giant Pfizer and German laboratory BioNTech in the name of all 27 EU members states on May 8.

“Only Hungary has requested that it will opt out and therefore will not be covered by the contract,” said EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides in Brussels on Thursday.

“We were informed about it,” she added.

“All other member states will have the opportunity to purchase vaccines under the new contract.”

The decision is the latest example of disunity between Budapest and its partners in the EU, where accusations of authoritarianism on the part of Viktor Orban’s government have raised tensions.

Budapest was quick to order Beijing’s Sinopharm and the Sputnik vaccine from Moscow, without waiting for EU approval.

Hungary has also been using the four EU-approved vaccines (Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson).

Since the pandemic struck, Hungary has registered 29,380 Covid-19 deaths — one of the highest mortality rates in the world, according to an AFP tally.

AFP

EU Slams Hungary, Poland In Rule Of Law Report

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

The European Union criticised Hungary and Poland in its first report on democratic standards across the bloc on Wednesday, as tensions soar between Brussels and Budapest.

The report on the “rule of law” in all 27 EU countries comes a day after the bloc rejected hardline Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s demand that a senior official resign over criticism of his government.

The assessment prepared by the European Commission, the bloc’s executive, voices “serious concern” about judicial independence in both Hungary and Poland.

Budapest and its ally in Warsaw have long been at loggerheads with Brussels over issues like civil freedoms and immigration, with Orban accused of persecuting opposition media and forcing the closure of foreign-owned universities.

On Tuesday, Orban demanded the resignation of Vera Jourova, a commission vice-president responsible for defending EU values and transparency, for calling Hungary an “ill democracy” in an interview.

The commission rejected the call but the row with Budapest sets the stage for a difficult summit of EU leaders on Thursday, where the rule of law debate looks set to poison attempts to fine tune a major coronavirus recovery package.

Asked about Orban’s criticism in an interview with AFP, Jourova refused to be drawn into “personal attacks”.

“But I want to reject strongly one thing: I never offended the Hungarian people,” she said, insisting she respected them and the choices they had made.

“But this does not mean we should not speak, also critically if needed, about actions of governments and elected representatives.”

“No-one’s actions are above criticism.”

The report examines four main pillars of democracy: justice systems, anti-corruption frameworks, media freedom and other checks and balances.

It lists a series of concerns over judicial independence in Hungary and warns of a lack of action to tackle graft related to top officials.

“Deficient independent control mechanisms and tight interconnections between politics and certain national businesses are conducive to corruption,” the report says of Hungary.

Polish legal reforms, a major point of contention between Warsaw and Brussels, “have increased the influence of the executive and legislative powers over the justice system and therefore weakened judicial independence”.

– ‘Absurd and false’ –

The EU has an “Article 7” procedure probing whether Hungary is undermining European legal standards and democratic values.

This could ultimately lead to them losing EU voting rights, though the hurdles for this are high.

Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga condemned the EU report as “absurd and false”.

“The concept and methodology of the Commission’s rule of law report is flawed, its sources are unbalanced and its content is unfounded,” she said in a statement.

The rule of law dispute has hampered protracted negotiations about the EU’s long-term budget and is likely to spill into this week’s summit.

The European Parliament and several member states want to see funding for countries like Hungary tied to respect for democratic legal values.

But Hungary and Poland, accused of a slide into populist authoritarianism, fiercely oppose this and have threatened to veto Europe’s coronavirus recovery plan.

Germany’s Angela Merkel has been working to negotiate a compromise arrangement to protect EU funds from being misspent, but diplomats warn the debate is “very polarised” and far from settled.

European diplomats representing member states voted to back the German plan on Wednesday and to begin negotiating with parliament, but seven countries opposed it, including Hungary and Poland.

AFP

COVID-19: Hungary Bans Travel From Africa, Most Of Asia

hungary
File photo: Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during a press conference following a Visegrad Group (V4) meeting in Warsaw on July 3, 2020.
JANEK SKARZYNSKI / AFP

 

Hungary’s government said Sunday it was barring travel from Africa, most of Asia apart from China and Japan, and restricting entry from several European countries after worldwide spikes in coronavirus cases.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Chief of Staff Gergely Gulyas said that Hungarian health officials have placed 154 countries into three risk categories based on numbers of coronavirus infections.

“We need to protect our security so that the virus is not introduced from abroad… the level of active infection cases at home is falling, and we want to keep it like that,” he told reporters in Budapest.

Entry into Hungary would be barred for citizens from countries assessed as “red” from Tuesday midnight, including all African and Asian countries apart from China and Japan.

European countries in the red zone are Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Belarus, Montenegro, as well as Hungary’s neighbour Ukraine.

Hungarian citizens returning from “red” countries must pass a virus test and undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine, said Gulyas.

Citizens from countries in a “yellow” category — including the US, UK, Norway, Serbia, Russia, China, and Japan — will have to enter two-week quarantine unless they have tested negative for the virus within five days.

Four of Hungary’s fellow EU members — Bulgaria, Portugal, Sweden, and neighbouring Romania — will also face the same restrictions.

Countries in the “green” category can continue to enter without restrictions.

Hungary’s population of almost 10 million has been lightly affected by the pandemic in comparison with other parts of Europe, reporting just over 4,200 coronavirus infections and around 595 deaths so far.

Earlier this month, Orban said Hungary would not follow an EU recommendation to lift coronavirus travel restrictions for more countries outside the bloc, citing a risk to health.

The EU’s border relaxation, announced June 30 and left to member states to implement, was a bid to help rescue the continent’s battered tourism sector, which had been choked by a ban on non-essential travel in place since mid-March.

The number of infections and deaths has risen relentlessly in many of the world’s biggest nations, with the United States crossing three million confirmed cases.

In Europe, where many nations had successfully suppressed their outbreaks, spikes have occurred in recent weeks.

AFP

Hungary Set To End Disputed Emergency COVID-19 Powers

Miguel MEDINA / AFP.

 

Hungary is set to revoke Tuesday anti-coronavirus emergency powers that triggered international criticism amid fears of a power grab by Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Dominated by Orban’s ruling Fidesz party, parliament is expected to approve the lifting of a “state of danger” and related special powers to tackle the COVID-19 crisis.

The state of danger would then be formally lifted later on this week when the text of the legislation is published.

However, several prominent government-critical NGOs have warned in a joint statement that revocation of the special powers would be an “optical illusion” leaving the authorities with enhanced powers.

A “coronavirus protection act” adopted by parliament on March 30 had enabled the cabinet to rule by decree until it decided to end the state of danger.

Orban, who implemented a relatively early lockdown to halt the spread of the virus, said that ruling by decree allowed him to respond quickly and effectively during the emergency.

Hungary’s population of almost 10 million has been lightly affected in comparison with other parts of Europe, reporting just over 4,000 infections of the novel coronavirus and around 560 deaths.

But critics at home and abroad who fretted that the law had no time limit and was vulnerable to abuse accused Orban of using the crisis to steer EU member Hungary toward authoritarianism.

In April the European Parliament approved a statement saying Hungary’s measures were “incompatible with European values”.

Governments that used the crisis to mount executive power grabs would be “politically dangerous, and morally unacceptable,” said Donald Tusk, leader of Europe’s EPP conservative political grouping, which Fidesz also belongs to.

Budapest dismissed the criticism as “fake news” and said the legislation was proportionate and could be rescinded at any time by parliament or reviewed by the constitutional court.

READ ALSO: Africa Urges UN Probe Of US ‘Systemic Racism’, Police Violence

Previously when looking forward to the end of emergency powers, Orban has said that critics “will get a chance to apologise to Hungary for unfounded accusations about the law”.

– Weakened controls –

Hungarian opposition parties and rights groups at home and abroad called the extra powers “dictatorial” and said Orban abused them to cement his rule rather than combat the virus.

They feared the powers would feed into the whittling away at independent institutions since Orban came to power in 2010 and launched a centralisation drive that has transformed the judiciary, media landscape, and education system among other sectors.

Some of the more than 100 decrees issued since April stripped opposition-run municipalities of power and finances.

The emergency powers also included potential jail terms for “scaremongering” over the pandemic, sparking concern for press freedom.

Police opened more than 100 cases of suspected scaremongering and temporarily detained several people, although no cases came to court.

Agoston Mraz, director of the Nezopont Institute in Budapest, which is seen as close to the government, told AFP that “Orban realised that he can profit from the false criticism on the international stage and he used the situation”.

“Now he is the absolute winner, in Hungary a large majority is satisfied with his crisis management, while abroad he won his fight against the critics,” he said.

However, according to a note from the Political Capital research firm “the government exploited the opportunities created by the special legal order and the political environment to the fullest extent”.

Changes ushered in by Orban’s government during the pandemic and which will remain in place weaken constitutional and parliamentary control over the government, while new financial measures increase the influence of Orban’s oligarch allies at the expense of opposition-led municipalities, said the note.

AFP

Hungary Bars Citizens From Legally Changing Gender

 

Hungary’s parliament voted Tuesday to bar nationals from legally changing their gender, defying protests at home and abroad and warnings that transgender citizens will face greater discrimination.

The text of the new law as passed says gender would be defined as “biological sex based on primary sex characteristics and chromosomes”.

The law makes it impossible to change a person’s sex recorded at birth and therefore also prevents changing one’s legally recognised gender.

Hungarian LGBT rights organisation Hatter called the move “sad and outrageous” and said it ignored “practical and human rights concerns raised by dozens of civil society organisations and international bodies.”

Critics fear nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government is pushing through parts of its controversial socially conservative agenda while attention is distracted by the coronavirus crisis.

“We will not give up the fight: we ask the president of the republic to send the law for review to the Constitutional Court,” Hatter said in a statement sent to AFP, adding that it would explore possible legal challenges to the law, both in Hungary and abroad.

Rights activists say the new law will expose transgender Hungarians to greater discrimination in employment, housing, access to goods and services and official procedures.

Earlier this month parliament — dominated by Orban’s Fidesz party — rejected the ratification of a treaty aimed at combatting violence against women.

The government opposes the Istanbul Convention partly on the grounds that it promotes “destructive gender ideologies”.

Since Orban came to power in 2010, his government has pursued several policies it says uphold traditional Hungarian values, including inserting a definition of marriage in the constitution as being between one man and one woman and a 2018 decree which effectively banned universities from teaching gender studies courses.

Hungary Eases Coronavirus Lockdown

Members of the Hungarian national swimming team, world champion Boglarka Kapas (R) arrives with her teammate Adam Telegdy (L) at Duna Arena, the base of the national team in Budapest, Hungary after their negative coronavirus COVID-19 test results on April 28, 2020. GERGELY BESENYEI / AFP.

 

Hungary announced Thursday that open-air restaurants and beaches outside the capital would be allowed to reopen next week as it eases its coronavirus restrictions.

But wearing a mask on public transport and in shops will be mandatory.

Neighbouring Slovenia also said outdoor spaces of restaurants and bars would be allowed to reopen from Monday, as long as they ensured safe distances between guests, while some school classes would resume from mid-May.

The lockdown will remain in place in Budapest, which has suffered about 70 percent of Hungary’s more than 2,700 COVID-19 declared infections, said Gergely Gulyas, a minister in Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s cabinet.

Nationwide, elderly people are advised to keep staying at home, but outside Budapest, stores, open-air museums and outdoor spaces of restaurants and hotels, and beaches and baths can all reopen from Monday.

It will be mandatory to wear a mask on public transport and in shops and keep a distance of 1.5 metres (six feet) from other people.

“We can try to restart life in Hungary, but we have to act gradually and on a strict schedule,” Orban said in a video message on Facebook late Wednesday.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus Cases In Russia Surge Past 100,000

Testing will be stepped up, while schools will remain closed throughout May, and events of more than 500 people are banned until at least August 15, Gulyas said.

In Slovenia, kindergartens and school classes for younger, as well as final-year students will resume from May 18, while others may not be able to go back until the next school year starts in September.

But an inter-municipality travel ban has been lifted with immediate effect, according to government speaker Jelko Kacin.

Training for professional sports in both Hungary and Slovenia can restart from Monday.

Libraries and museums are also expected to largely reopen on Monday in Slovenia, together with hairdressers and stores of up to 400 square metres.

The small Alpine country of two million people has reported more than 1,400 novel coronavirus cases and 91 deaths.

Hungary, which has a population of nearly 10 million people, has reported 312 deaths.

Orban drew criticism at home and abroad last month when his government passed a law granting him powers to rule by decree without a fixed time limit to fight the pandemic.

Budapest has been run by a liberal mayor who is not from Orban’s nationalist party since last year.

AFP