BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban asked parliament on Monday to extend the government’s special powers to handle the COVID-19 pandemic, saying only vaccinations would enable the government to ease lockdown measures introduced last autumn.
Hungary became the first European Union member state last week to start administering Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine after its regulator approved the shot for emergency use rather than wait for a green light from the EU’s European Medicines Agency.
The Hungarian drug regulator has also granted approval to Chinese Sinopharm’s vaccine, also a first in the EU.
“We want more than just (to) turn the ‘Closed’ sign on our door. We want to reopen the economy and the entire civic life,” Orban told parliament.
Orban wants his government’s special mandate extended for 90 days, in contrast with an open-ended mandate he sought and was given last March, sparking international criticism.
Under the exceptional rules, the government is authorised to rule by decree but parliament remains in session and can take back those powers.
Orban said Hungary needed vaccines faster than they were available in the EU, making vaccine imports from China and Russia necessary as well as from the West.
A government cargo plane took off from Budapest on Monday morning for China, where it will load enough vaccines from China’s Sinopharm to inoculate about 250,000 of Hungary’s 10 million residents.
“Any vaccine that is safe and has been used to inoculate millions of people is good enough for us,” he said. “With the necessary care we will phase out the restrictions.”
(Reporting by Budapest bureau @mdunai; Editing by Alison Williams and Timothy Heritage)