Hungary declares state of emergency over coronavirus — Tourism may decline by 60 percent

There are currently 12 cases of coronavirus in Hungary. As a containment measure, the Hungarian government has cancelled all public commemorative events planned for March 15th, a national holiday marking the 1848 Revolution and War of Independence. Additionally, on Wednesday, the Orbán government declared a state of emergency — an unprecedented move since Hungary’s transition to democracy in 1989/90. The announcement was made by Gergely Gulyás, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office. As part of the new extraordinary measures, visitors from Italy, China, South Korea and Iran will be barred entry to Hungary. Hungarians returning from these countries will be quarantined and will not be permitted to enter pharmacies nor any shops. Beginning at midnight on Wednesday, all train, bus and air travel between Hungary and Austria, as well as Hungary and Slovenia, will be suspended.

Gergely Gulyás , Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office, declares a state of emergency.

On Thursday, Hungary will proceed with closing all universities and only distance and online learning will be available. Additionally, the government has banned any outdoor events with expected attendance at 500 or more, as well as most indoor gatherings where 100 or more people are expected to assemble. Shopping malls, restaurants and work places will remain open, but theatres and cinemas will be closed. The government has yet to decide whether the ban on indoor gathering will apply to Mass and Sunday service in churches.

Hotels in Hungary have seen room reservations drop by 18.5 percent due to the spread of the coronavirus and the country expects the number of tourists visiting in March and April to see a 50 to 60 percent drop compared to numbers from the same period in 2019. These figures were released by the Hungarian Tourism Agency, a governmental entity charged with the public administration of tourism in Hungary. Fully 54.3 percent of Chinese tourists and 41.4 percent of Israelis have cancelled their planned trips to Budapest. Nationally, 37.8 percent of Italians and 25 percent of Romanian nationals have also cancelled their trips to Hungary. Among German nationals who planned to visit Hungary, which represents the largest number of tourists, 13.3 percent have changed their mind. Clearly, with the state of emergency now declared, cancellations will rise markedly.

The Agency noted that stopping the spread of the coronavirus was more important than the current fate of the tourism industry, adding that figures surrounding cancellations would likely change day-by-day. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, speaking at a meeting of the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, referred to tourism this year in Hungary as being a “write-off.” He added that anyone whose income or business is tied to tourism and related logistics would have to expect severe economic decline. The Hungarian Tourism Agency has established a 1 billion forint fund (approx. $3.7 million) to aid those worst hit in the sector. It is not yet clear according to what rubrics these funds may be disbursed. A report in Hungary’s Népszava daily notes that if the coronavirus is not contained by Easter, tourism in the European Union could decline by 85 percent this year.

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