Hundreds of protesters, including restaurant workers, gathered in Budapest on Sunday (January 31) against lockdown measures extended by the government until March 1, saying the curbs destroyed their business.
The protesters wore masks but defied rules that ban public gathering, so police started asking for documents on the scene
“We are not getting real solutions to the otherwise grave pandemic situation,” said protest organiser Aron Ecsenyi.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government has said it could only start easing the measures if the number of coronavirus cases falls sharply, or if large numbers of Hungarians are vaccinated.
This is unlikely before the end of March even as Hungary became first in the EU this week to sign a deal for Russia’s Sputnik V COVID vaccine and Chinese Sinopharm’s vaccine.
Current lockdown measures include a night curfew and closing secondary schools and all restaurants and cafes, except for takeaway meals.
Organisers said that over 100 restaurants nationwide joined a campaign to reopen on Monday (February 1), even as the government sharply raised fines by decree on Saturday, saying restaurants that receive guests would have to pay up 1 to 5 million forints (3,400-17,000 USD) in fines, and would be closed for six months.
Joining the protest were cafe owners Olga Miskolczi and Attila Blaho with their 2-year-old daughter who was carrying a Hungarian flag.
They decided to protest as they have reached the end of their financial reserves and would like to see substantial government support for the hospitality sector. They opened their cafe in the leafy residential area of Budapest just before the pandemic hit.
“We are now at the end of our strength, we are quite badly off,” Blaho said.
Hungary, with a population of around 10 million, has reported a total of 367,586 cases as of Sunday and 12,524 deaths. New infections have been dropping but over 3,500 people are still in hospital.