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Coronavirus infections in Hungary

March 9th, 2020

As the number of confirmed coronavirus patients in Hungary grows, pundits across the political spectrum ponder the broader social and political implications of the epidemic.

By Sunday, 7 cases of coronavirus infection had been identified in Hungary. 67 individuals are in quarantine and being tested for the illness. The government, at the recommendation of the Coronavirus Operative Board, has cancelled the March 15 national day celebrations.

In Népszava, former MSZP Chair Ildikó Lendvai accuses the government of using the coronavirus contagion for political purposes. Lendvai thinks that PM Orbán wants to show that he is a strong leader capable of managing an emergency. Lendvai finds it even more controversial that the government, in her opinion, is using the coronavirus to incite xenophobia by blaming migrants for the spread of the virus in Hungary, and closing Hungary’s borders to even the trickle of asylum seekers who until now were able to enter (see BudaPost March 3). In a sarcastic remark, Lendvai wonders if the government will also claim that patient zero was a refugee or a Roma person so that Roma segregation can be justified. (The first two identified coronavirus patients were Iranians, university students on a government-sponsored program.)

Magyar Nemzet’s Zsolt Bayer finds it sad that ‘Hungary has become the country of ten million coronavirus experts. The pro-government pundit recalls that the opposition has until now accused the government of not taking the threat seriously enough. Bayer finds that accusation absurd. The government did what is required in an emergency, he asserts, and has also given details of its plans to handle a fully-fledged pandemic as well. Left-wing politicians who demand more are out of touch with reality, Bayer contends.

In Mérce, Soma Ábrahám Kiss fears that the poor, and blue collar workers will be the primary victims of the economic recession which is bound to follow the coronavirus meltdown. The radical left-wing blogger describes as good news the sharp decline in air pollution in China, due to quarantine measures. He suspects, however, that workers who stay at home will suffer the economic consequences of the suspension of industrial production. ‘There is little hope that the beneficiaries of global capitalism will act in-line with our collective objectives’ and help poor workers left without income, he writes. The coronavirus pandemic will have a devastating impact on poor countries, Kiss predicts. All this, he concludes, will result in the ‘death of millions and failing states’.

The coronavirus ‘satisfies our psychological need to feel that our world order is under attack,’ Tamás Leimeszter writes on Mandiner. The conservative blogger does not deny that the coronavirus is a real threat, but he nonetheless suggests that we are overreacting to it. Leimeszter fears that what he maintains is apocalyptic fear-mongering may become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and heightened hysteria may lead to a complete social meltdown –  from which it will not be easy to return to normalcy, even if the coronavirus epidemic is contained.