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Hungary's Orban Seeks Continued Emergency Powers For COVID-19 Response

A woman receives the Russian Sputnik V vaccine at the South Pest Central Hospital in Budapest on February 12.
A woman receives the Russian Sputnik V vaccine at the South Pest Central Hospital in Budapest on February 12.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has asked lawmakers for a further extension of emergency powers to help curb the spread of the coronavirus in the country.

Orban wants his cabinet's special mandate extended for 90 days, in contrast with an open-ended mandate he sought and was given in March, sparking international criticism.

Under the exceptional rules, the government is authorized to rule by decree but parliament, dominated by Orban's right-wing nationalist Fidesz party, remains in session and can take back those powers.

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In a speech on February 15, Orban defended the move, which is expected to easily pass.

"We want more than just turn the 'closed' sign on our door. We want to reopen the economy and the entire civic life," Orban said.

He reiterated criticism of the European Union for its slow rollout of vaccines in the bloc. Orban has been repeatedly criticized by EU leaders in Brussels for his authoritarian governance in the country.

And he defended his government’s decision to unilaterally seek vaccines, without EU approval, from Russia and China. Hungarian health authorities last month approved vaccines from China's state-owned company Sinopharm as well as Russia’s Sputnik V, making Hungary the first EU country to do so.

"The most important task facing our country is to try to get as many vaccines as possible. Not later, as they are promising from Brussels, but quickly," he said. "For us, every vaccine is good which is safe and with which several million people around the world have already been vaccinated.”

Health officials began administering the Russian vaccine in Budapest hospitals on February 12.

As of February 15, Hungary had nearly 389,000 cumulative cases of COVID-19 and nearly 14,000 deaths. More than 310,000 people have received at least one dose of a vaccine to date.

With reporting by Reuters
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