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Hungary drafts 'war plan' as virus cases rise in eastern Europe

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. File picture by Virginia Mayo, Associated Press
By Associated Press Reporter

The number of new confirmed coronavirus cases has spiked in parts of eastern Europe, with Hungary and the Czech Republic registering all-time daily highs.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said his government was drafting a "war plan" to defend against the second wave of the pandemic.

The plan's aim was "not for everyone to stay at home and bring the country to a halt... but to defend Hungary's functionality", Mr Orban said.

The prime minister said measures meant to protect the economy and spur growth would be introduced in the coming weeks. In the second quarter of the year, Hungary's gross domestic product fell 13.6%, the worst drop in the region.

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Mr Orban reiterated the need to protect the elderly, one of the group's most at risk during the pandemic, and authorities have banned most visits to retirement homes and hospitals to stem the spread of the virus.

Wearing masks or other face coverings is mandatory on public transportation, in stores and in many public institutions.

While Hungary closed its borders to foreigners on September 1, it has since announced several exemptions, including for people arriving from Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the three other members of Europe's Visegrad Group, or V4.

"I believe that in the cross-European troubles, we can create a safe central European island, within which and applying particular rules, movement and the possibility of a common life with the Slovaks, Czechs and Poles can survive," Mr Orban said.

Coronavirus cases have spiked in parts of eastern Europe

Hungary reported 718 virus cases on Friday, 142 more than the country's previous 24-hour record. The Czech Republic reported 1,382 cases, which was over 200 more than its previous daily high and led to the return of face masks being mandatory in enclosed public spaces.

Poland also registered an increase in new confirmed cases, with 594 reported on Friday. While that was well below the record 903 cases the country recorded on August 21, it was higher than the 400-500 new cases of the previous days.

One possible reason for Poland's overall decline in reported cases since last month is that the government has implemented a new strategy which focuses primarily on testing symptomatic patients. People quarantined after contact with an infected person, however, will no longer need to be tested.

Montenegro, which in June became the first European country to declare itself coronavirus-free, was also registering a spike in new cases, explained by the summer tourist season which saw little distancing at the beaches, restaurants and nightclubs. On Thursday, the small Adriatic state had 128 new cases, with nearly every fifth person tested found to be positive.

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