April 3, 2020 / 6:38 AM / 2 months ago

Hungary to unveil pandemic fund on Saturday, detailed plans on Tuesday

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary will introduce a new pandemic fund on Saturday and work out the details of the country’s biggest economic stimulus package by Tuesday, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said, adding that the plans focus primarily on employment.

Healthcare workers will receive a 500,000 forint (1,211.34 pounds) bonus this year to compensate them for the extra workload and risk that fighting the coronavirus entails, he added.

Hungary, like most other countries, has already been hit hard by the fallout from the coronavirus epidemic, with business grinding to a virtual halt, and the important car manufacturing and tourism sectors all but shutting down.

With tens of thousands of jobs lost in March, Orban said the economic stimulus package would have to react to the crisis and prepare for life afterwards.

“We will have to create as many jobs as the crisis destroys,” he told state radio on Friday. A Pandemic Fund will be introduced on Saturday, and detailed economic stimulus plans on Tuesday, he said.

He said Hungary would not join countries throwing limitless funds at the crisis, but would focus on maintaining a work-centred economic philosophy because any money spent now would have to be made later.

“The circumstances have changed now but our goals remain the same, except the route to them has changed,” he said. “I don’t want my country to return to an aid-based economy, because that leads to loans, which leads to indebtedness.”

In his decade in power, Orban dragged the economy out of a deep debt and deficit trap and maintained rigorous finances, while drawing criticism for unorthodox fiscal moves that often taxed foreign business interests.

Orban also responded to criticism from the European Union, the United States and rights groups this week about his extension of special powers, including the open-ended right to rule by decree until the end of the pandemic.

“Brussels is busy with us, while they should be busy with the virus,” he said. “The Hungarian government’s emergency powers are roughly the same as the French president has in peacetime. Clearly we are under political attack.”

“The main thing is that we stay the course ... this is a network, which would like to strip Hungary of its resources, with George Soros at the helm, with his people in Brussels criticising us.”

Soros is a favourite scapegoat for Orban, who was once a protégé of the billionaire financier.

Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by David Goodman and Giles Elgood

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