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What does Hungary’s new state of epidemiological preparedness’ involve?

Simultaneously with the declaration of the ‘state of epidemiological preparedness’, Act LVIII of 2020 on transitional rules concerning the end of state of emergency and on the state of epidemiological preparedness entered into effect (transition act). It amends the public health emergency of Act CLIV of 1997 on healthcare (the ‘Healthcare Act’, s228).
Epidemiological preparedness can be declared for six months in the event of a public health emergency, and allows the Government to implement less stringent restrictions than during a ‘state of emergency’. First, we will summarise the restrictions currently in effect, and then the additional restrictions possible to implement during a public health emergency.

Current restrictions

Currently, the following restrictions are in effect:

1.    During the state of epidemiological preparedness, only citizens of member states of the European Union and the European Economic Area (and their family members) can enter Hungary using passenger transport, with the exception of citizens of the United Kingdom. Citizens of Serbia and Romania may also enter using passenger transport.

2.    Citizens of third countries other than those listed above can only enter Hungary in passenger traffic with special permission of the police where there is a legitimate reason. The request may be submitted electronically, in Hungarian, on the police website.

3.    Covering the nose and mouth (i.e. wearing a mask) continues to be mandatory on public transport and in retail premises. Wearing a mask is not required for guests on premises of restaurants and bars.

4.    Both indoor and outdoor music and dancing events can be held for under 500 participants. This means that cinemas and theatres may reopen. The exact date of reopening will be determined by the venue operators. For theatres the necessary preparations might mean reopening will take longer than cinemas.

Declaring an emergency

The rules for declaring a public health emergency and further restrictions are summarised below.

The declaration must be ordered by the Government upon the national chief medical officer’s recommendation

This must be justified by:

·        an epidemiological emergency; or

·        any event seriously endangering or damaging the life, health or physical integrity of citizens or the operation of healthcare providers;

·        a circumstance that seriously and directly impedes healthcare for the population in care of a medical institution.

It is effective for six months at most, except if its term is extended by the Government. The national chief medical officer will continuously monitor the existence of the conditions justifying the state of emergency, and if they are no longer present, initiate (through a ministerial proposal) the repeal of the Government Decree declaring the public health emergency.

A state of emergency can be declared for certain parts or the whole of Hungary.

If justified, the Government may create an Operational Group, which can then set up a watch centre and task forces.

Possible further restrictions

Through its decrees, the Government may restrict or prohibit the following (among others):

·        operation of institutes and facilities, attending and organising events, performance of activities;

·        operation and opening hours of businesses;

·        passenger transport, transportation of live animals and goods between certain parts of the country or between Hungary and other countries;

·        personal, physical contact between people;

·        selling or consuming certain products;

·        use of health services;

·        consumption of drinking water;

·        keeping certain animals;

·        transport`;

Action can also be taken in the following areas:

·        use and supply of medicine, medical accessories, healthcare services;

·        preserving the condition of medical supplies;

·        rules on social distancing, wearing protective equipment and establishing shopping time slots;

·        public and higher education;

·        epidemiological quarantines;

·        delivery of goods.

Simultaneously with the measures described above, the Healthcare Act has been supplemented with rules for ‘Official home quarantine’ (Section 67/A), ‘Searching for a person to enforce epidemiological measures’ (Section 70/B) and ‘Other epidemiological measures’ (Section 74/B).