1.2 Physical distancing
On the 7th of September, the government instituted a ban on leaving or visiting all social institutions that provide specialised care. Exemption from the visiting ban is only granted if someone would like to visit a relative who is in the final stage of a terminal illness. The ban on leaving institutions is not applicable to night shelters or temporary accommodations for homeless people. Visiting the facility’s garden or other buildings does not constitute leaving the institution. New patients may only be admitted if they are in possession of two negative COVID-19 tests prior to registration .
The Chief Medical Officer announced a similar visitation ban from 8th of September in every hospital .
From the 9th of September, passengers in Budapest who are not properly wearing a face mask on public transportation can be excluded from travel and could be required to pay a fine.
From the 15th of September, stricter face mask wearing rules will be applied on the trains and intercity/regional buses. Passengers who do not wear a mask to cover their nose and mouth may be excluded from travel.
From the 18th of September, individuals in Budapest are required to wear a face mask in cinemas, theatres, and concerts, as well as during circus performances, general meetings in apartment buildings, and closed indoor areas. Those who are not or not properly wearing a mask can get an on-site fine up to HUF 15,000, and the owner can get an administrative fine up to HUF 50,000 .
From the 21st of September, the restaurants, the bars and the clubs in the country should close at 11.00 p.m. Additionally, it will be compulsory to wear face masks nationwide not only on public transport and in shops, but also in cinemas, theatres, health care and social institutions and customer service offices . The ban on events with an attendance of more than 500 people remains in force.
From the 1st of October, pre-schools, school, and vocational institutions’ staff and students will only be allowed to enter the buildings after their body temperatures have been checked. Parents and other persons accompanying children to pre-schools or elementary schools can enter the institutions up to the point where the children’s body temperatures are taken, but they should wear face masks covering their nose and mouth .
From the 23rd of October, it is mandatory to wear face masks at outdoor events and sporting events . Outdoor events are for outdoor meetings, which are defined as a public gathering of at least two persons for the purpose of expressing in a public matter. Children under 6 are not required to wear a face mask.
On the 29th of April, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced on his Facebook account that the coronavirus epidemic containment effort is entering a new phase, which requires protecting the elderly and maintaining restrictions for residents living in the most infected areas, but gradually lifting the restrictions elsewhere in the country. The restrictions on movement will therefore remain in effect in Budapest and the surrounding areas (Pest county). In the countryside, the restrictions on movement will be replaced with new containment measures . From the 4th of May, shops in the countryside will be allowed to remain open without restrictions on their opening hours. The terraces and gardens of restaurants and cafes may reopen, but only employees can stay indoors. Outdoor bathing facilities, outdoor museums and zoos will be open again for visiting. Individuals are required to keep a safe distance of 1.5 metres and cover their faces or wear a face mask in shops and on public transport. The measures relating to the protected time slot reserved for the elderly will remain in effect.
No large events can be organized until 15th of August in Hungary . On the 30th of July, the Minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office said that the government will maintain the rules relating to events with more than 500 people involving music and dancing also beyond the 15th of August .
Religious events, funerals and civil marriage can be held but the safe distance of 1.5 meter must be maintained. Sporting events can be held without spectators. Training is allowed in amateur and professional sports as well.
Out-of-classroom digital education will be maintained in May and the situation in June will be decided later. More than 84,000 secondary school students will take final (graduation) exams between the 4th-21st of May. With the exception of a few subjects, only written examinations will be held. Only those students who need the results for their higher education application will take their final exams.
Hungarian police officers at the border will let in students coming from outside the border, and they will not be required to quarantine at home for 14 days.
Adopted precautionary measures during final (graduation) exams [6,7]:
• public transport vehicles will run more frequently
• there will be police supervision in the neighbourhood of examination venues
• all students will be given face masks (not compulsory to wear during the exam), while the supervisor teachers and teachers correcting the tests will also be supplied with gloves
• in the interest of minimising face-to-face interactions between those going to work and students taking their final examinations, during the first week, examinations will start at nine in the morning
• all schools conducting final examinations will receive supplies of hand sanitizers
• in each classroom, there will be a maximum of ten students, with minimum 1.5 meter between them
• exam papers will be disinfected in such a way that they will be left to rest for 24 hours before further processing
In the countryside, the higher education institutions can be visited by the students in a way the rector decides. The dorms are not allowed to open.
On the 14th of May, further loosening of restrictive measures was announced :
• from the 14th of May, Pest County will operate under the same rules as other counties;
• in the counties, catering establishments will be allowed to reopen their interior spaces to customers (in particular, restaurants, cafes, cake shops, snack bars and pubs). However, restaurant workers will be required to wear face masks, and they are asking customers to follow suit as far as possible and to keep a safe distance;
• from the 18th of May, playgrounds in open spaces and parks will reopen and hotels and guest houses in the countryside will be allowed to receive guests;
• from the 1st of June, the organisation of weddings with a maximum attendance of two hundred people will be allowed in the countryside and in Pest County;
• the government has also decided that summer camps for children without overnight stay can be organised. They will decide on the organisation of camps involving overnight stay in light of the epidemic situation at the end of May.
The restrictions on movement introduced in Budapest due to the coronavirus epidemic were lifted at midnight on the 17th of May. From the 18th of May the following rules entered into force :
• Wherever possible, people are obliged to keep a safe distance of one and a half metres from others (except those who are living in the same household).
• In shops and on public transport, wearing face masks will remain compulsory.
• Public areas, parks and open-air playgrounds will reopen to visitors.
• In grocery stores, personal hygiene stores and pharmacies, the hours between 9.00 a.m. and 12.00 noon will remain reserved for customers over the age of 65, while customers aged under 65 will be allowed to visit these stores outside the above hours.
• Local governments may determine different hours for shopping at markets for customers in different age groups.
• All shops may reopen to customers.
• Catering establishments, in particular restaurants, cafes, cake shops, snack bars and pubs will be allowed to reopen their gardens and terraces to customers.
• Bathing facilities and outdoor baths will be allowed to reopen.
• Outdoor museums and zoos will be allowed to reopen.
• Services, such as hairdressing and cosmetics, will be available to anyone for use; service premises will be allowed to remain open without restrictions.
• Church services as well as civil weddings and funerals will be allowed to be held. In Budapest, family events with fewer than two hundred attendees may be held from the 15th of June (e.g. wedding receptions and funerals). Moreover, wedding ceremonies and receptions can also be held in restaurants and hotels and “live musical accompaniment” is allowed as well.
• Universities may reopen; however, the rector of every higher education institution will be entitled to make a decision on reopening. The student hall of residences of higher education institutions will remain closed.
The operation of nurseries and kindergartens in the countryside can return to normal from the 25th of May. In the capital these institutions will open on the 2nd of June. The education remains digital, but the schools can be open for small group of pupils. Teachers will provide group consultations and individual tutoring nationwide from the 2nd of June.
From the 28th of May, outdoor events, including sports events, cultural events, theatrical performances, exhibitions and circus shows can be held. Events held in facilities which are bordered by walls, but are partially or fully roofless should also be regarded as outdoor events (for example stadiums, swimming pools, outdoor stages and cinemas). Three chairs must be left empty between two spectators, and spectators must not sit directly behind each other and ensure a safe distance of at least 1.5 meters between each other. The outdoor facilities of national parks will also reopen to visitors .
The attendance of musical and dance events held outside remains prohibited.
From the 29th of May, the interior spaces of restaurants in Budapest will reopen to customers, however, workers will be required to wear face masks, and a safe distance will have to be maintained. Hotels in the capital will be allowed to receive guests .
From the 3rd of June, it is possible to visit residents and patients living in elderly care homes and all other social care institutions, as long as they are not isolated due to COVID-19 infections. Only healthy family members will be allowed to visit and they will be required to wear face masks. These institutions must provide hand sanitizers at the entrance, and if there is more than one resident in a room, only one visitor is allowed to be present. New residents or residents returning from the hospital can only be admitted to social institutions if a laboratory test performed not more than four days previously verifies that they are not infected .
From the 12th of June, the visitation ban in hospitals was partially lifted. The relevant specific rules will be determined by the given institutions’ director general. The general rules are the following: only healthy persons are allowed to visit hospitals, visitors should wear a face mask and must be given the opportunity to wash their hands with soap or to disinfect their hands .
The public libraries opened for visitors on the 15th of June.
The government submitted a bill on the revocation of the special legal order on the 26th of May to Parliament. The Parliament voted on lifting the State of Emergency within two weeks . The special legal order and the State of Emergency ended at midnight on the 17th of June, but the Operative Corps remains in session and the hospital commanders as well . After the State of Emergency was lifted, the restrictions on travel for health care workers, law enforcement officers and government officials was released. Individuals are required to wear face masks in shops and on public transport (and when working in restaurants), but there won’t be any time limit for shopping from the 18th of June. Events with fewer than 500 participants can be organized again.
At the beginning of June, the government announced that after the lifting the State of Emergency, the indoor theatres and cinemas can reopen. However, the decree that was published on the 17th of June in the Hungarian Gazette and includes the details of the new measures does not mention these cultural institutions, so no details are known about their opening yet.
With regard to the favorable situation in the defense against COVID-19, the government plans to launch the school year according to normal schedule, on the 1st of September. The schools received protocols on measures they need to implement to facilitate protection against the pandemic .
After the first case appeared on the 4th of March in Hungary, those who were diagnosed with COVID-19 or were contacts of the first group had to be quarantined in the St. László Hospital, the infectious diseases center of Hungary. On the 7th of March, the official commemoration of the National Day was renounced by the Operative Corps and the visits of inpatients care and social institutes were banned starting on the 8th of March.
With regard to the situation in Italy on the 11th of March, the Government declared a State of Emergency, which allowed for the introduction of quick and extraordinary actions. Since the first diagnosed cases were students from foreign countries studying in Hungarian universities, the universities and other higher educational institutions were closed on the 11th of March. After a week-long break, education has started again using online distance learning. Additionally, class trips to foreign countries as well as the national language program in abroad was stopped on the same day.
Since the 12th of March, events with more than 100 people in enclosed spaces and more than 500 people in non-enclosed places were also banned. Furthermore, essential workers (physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals) were not allowed to leave the country anymore. Home office was encouraged for those businesses, which could reorganize work that way. Just one day later, on the 13th of March it was announced by the Prime Minister, that the schools were closing on the 16th of March and the education was going to continue online. From this day on, day care is provided only for children, whose parents are essential workers.
Also on the 12th of March, all events were prohibited, and restaurants and other shops could only stay open until 3 pm. The vulnerable age group was seriously asked to stay at home, while care for those in need was promised to be organised by the municipalities.
Although it was not prohibited by the government, most traditional churches in Hungary decided to suspend regular religious gatherings (but continued services online). For instance, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary has no Sunday worships as of 16th of March, the Reformed Church in Hungary has cancelled and suspended all community events as of 16th of March and the Hungarian Catholic Church has no Mass as of 22nd of March.
As the number of diagnosed cases went up to more than 300, stricter actions were announced by the Government. From the 27th of March, a curfew restriction came into force, which means that for a two-week period people are only allowed to leave their residences for work or basic needs, as well as they have to keep 1.5-meter distance in public places. Seniors aged over 65, are only allowed to visit grocery stores, pharmacies, and markets between 9am and 12pm, while others are not allowed to visit these places in that period. Restaurants are closed for the public, they can only serve by home delivery and takeaway, but hairdressers and manicurists can remain open. Typical reasons that justify home leave include going to work or procurement of materials for work, shopping for basic needs (food, medicine, tobacco, cleaning supplies and toiletries, animal food, stationery, etc), caring for the elderly, administrative errands if they require personal presence, health care utilization, fuelling the car, or car repair, getting a haircut or manicure, taking children to child care, attending weddings and funerals (with minimum number of participants), visiting a church, walking the pet and open air recreational activities. On the 9th of April, the Prime Minister announced that the curfew restrictions were extended by the government with no exact end date, but the necessity of the measure will be revised weekly. Further, mayors were authorized to implement stricter restrictions locally during the Easter holidays, to prevent the mass visit of popular tourist destinations. Mayors did close parts or all of their towns and villages for instance in and around Budapest, and around lake Balaton . The special authorization for mayors was extended for the weekend after Easter (18-19th of April) and for long weekend of May 1st as well.
From the 6th of April, new provisions were announced to protect those living in nursing homes. These include prohibiting visits and new admissions, as well as introducing a curfew. Additionally, each nursing home should appoint a person responsible for the prevention of COVID-19. For more details about the competence of these individuals, please refer to Section 5 – Governance.
From the 27th of April, riders on public transportation in Budapest must cover their face with a scarf or mask, as announced by the mayor Gergely Karácsony. The same regulations will be introduced at shops, markets and in taxicabs as well.