Hungary to shut its borders again over virus fears

Hungary said Friday that it would close its borders again next month because of new coronavirus fears, becoming the first EU country to re-tighten restrictions so severely.

The Central European country of almost 10 million people has been spared the brunt of the COVID-19 health crisis so far, having recorded some 5,500 cases including 614 fatalities.

“From September 1, foreign citizens will not be allowed to enter the territory of Hungary,” said Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyas.

Gulyas told reporters most new infections in the country had originated abroad.

Gulyas said Hungarian citizens returning from other countries will be allowed to enter as long as they can show two negative coronavirus tests or quarantine themselves for 14 days.

He said the government would later specify other exceptions, such as for diplomats and transit travel. The border closure will be maintained for a month, he added.

Gulyas himself tested negative for the virus this week after he and several other government officials were in contact at a private weekend event with a ruling party spokesman who contracted the virus.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto also came under fire last week after he was spotted on a yacht in Croatia while posting social media pictures appearing to show him hard at work in an office.

Earlier this month, Finland’s Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo described her country’s border policy as the “tightest in the European Union”.

The Nordic country this month removed most EU countries from its “green travel list”, with only arrivals from a handful of states able to enter without proof of a valid reason and self-isolating for two weeks.

The EU’s earlier border relaxation, announced on 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 to curb the new coronavirus spread.

Hungary’s nationalist premier Orban has often been at odds with other EU members and Brussels itself over rule-of-law and other issues.

In June, Hungarian MPs voted to revoke anti-coronavirus emergency powers that triggered international criticism amid fears of a power grab by Orban.

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

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