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Hungary expects second wave of pandemic to peak around December-January, PM Orban says

FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban reacts during the "Leaders' Panel: Europe after Brexit and COVID-19" at the Bled Strategic Forum, in Bled, Slovenia August 31, 2020. REUTERS/Borut Zivulovic

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary will maintain border closures and make the wearing of face masks mandatory in cinemas, theatres and social institutions to contain the spread of coronavirus, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Wednesday.

Orban said the second wave of the pandemic was expected to peak sometime around December or January, adding that his government had imposed a cap on the price of tests for COVID-19 at 19,500 forints (49.55 pounds) each.

“We have prepared our healthcare system. The necessary equipment, hospital beds, ventilators and staff required to operate them are at the ready,” Orban said in a Facebook video.

“Everyone can rest assured, if you contract this disease, you will be cured,” said Orban, whose government is walking a tightrope as it seeks to keep restrictions as minimal as possible to prevent further harm to the economy.

Hungary closed its borders at the start of the month to combat the virus, only to subsequently exempt tourists visiting from three neighbouring states, prompting a rebuke from the European Commission.

Schools will remain open, while restaurants and bars will be allowed to do business until 2300 CET (2100 GMT), Orban said, as his government seeks to avoid another lockdown like that which sent the economy into a 13.6% recession in the second quarter.

After a spike in new cases in recent weeks, Hungary reported 581 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, bringing the total number of infections to 14,460, with 654 deaths.

Orban said wearing face masks will be mandatory in cinemas, theatres and social institutions, as well as on public transport and in shops.

“I have instructed police to strictly control and enforce these regulations and, if needed, penalise those found in breach,” he said.

Reporting by Gergely Szakacs and Krisztina Than; Editing by Catherine Evans

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