BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s government on Thursday said events with more than 500 participants cannot be held until Aug. 15, wiping off the calendar several large international festivals that normally draw hundreds of thousands of visitors.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban said some restrictions imposed to contain the novel coronavirus pandemic would be lifted from next week, when shops and restaurant terraces would be allowed to reopen without time limits.
Existing strict restrictions will continue for now in the capital Budapest, which has reported the highest number of coronavirus infections and deaths.
Those constraints ended weeks of uncertainty for the country’s international music festivals, which announced one after the other that they would cancel this year’s events.
That includes Sziget, the largest festival in Hungary that normally attracts close to half a million visitors in early August. Sziget also operates several other large festivals, such as VOLT and Balaton Sound in July, which were also cancelled.
“For now we are infinitely sad” that Sziget will not be held for the first time after 27 consecutive years, chief organiser Tamas Kadar said in a statement. He said the unprecedented situation would greatly harm the economy and threaten many jobs.
Sziget had booked acts like Calvin Harris, Dua Lipa, and Kings Of Leon for this year, and asked those who already bought passes to consider this an investment into the 2021 edition, adding that it was working on possible refunds.
Many other festivals like the international Goa music festival Ozora will also not be held this year, organisers said.
A phased reopening is the government’s strategy to head off deeper and more lasting harm to the economy, which is expected to shrink by about 4% this year based on a Reuters survey.
Schools will stay closed until the end of May, Orban’s Chief of Staff Gergely Gulyas told a news conference, adding that graduation exams would be held nationwide amid extra precautions from Monday for tens of thousands of secondary school students.
Hungary has reported 2,775 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, 70% of them in Budapest. Of them, 312 people have died.
(Reporting by Budapest bureau; Editing by Alison Williams, Alex Richardson, William Maclean)