To reopen, or not to reopen, that is the question

Protestors and policemen on the Heroes’ Square in Budapest. Source: 444.hu

The frustration of the Hungarian hospitality workers peaked with a protest in Budapest on the 31st of January and on the 1st of February. Bars and restaurants are closed since November in Hungary due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many owners and employees disagree with the decision and urge the government to let them reopen.

Since the November 11, restaurants, bars, and cafés – as well as other indoor establishments such as gyms – are closed in Hungary. Like in many other countries, delivery is still possible. Still, for people working in the hospitality sector, the clock is ticking. And many of them had enough.

The peaceful protest took place on the Heroes’ Square in Budapest because many owners think they do not get enough support from the government. There is a Facebook page with over 15 thousand likes called “Tömeges Üzletnyitás” meaning “Massive Store Opening.” This refers to the idea of owners reopening against the regulations if their situation will remain unchanged.

“Every tool that we have used until now has been depleted, so beginning now, every business should open in the spirit of civil disobedience,” Áron Ecsei, organiser of the protest told the Independent. He also emphasised during his speech at the protest that they “do not wish to understate the seriousness of the virus but politicians should not make things worse for them with their simple, random decisions.”

According to Index.hu, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said if someone decides to reopen despite the restrictions, they will close that place for half a year. He also said recently that the restrictions will stay the same until at least March 1.

Telex.hu’s Live Facebook video of the protest on the 1st of February

Big cities like Budapest are affected differently than smaller towns near the Lake Balaton which is a typical holiday destination of Hungarians. “We are not open during the winter season anyway. So if we can only reopen a month later or so this year, that will not make a huge difference for us.” says Jánosné Szabó who’s restaurant is a family business. According to her, that also makes the situation better for them because they do not have other employees.

A common criticism in Hungary is that while bars have to remain closed, clothing stores are allowed to be open. “The virus can spread just as much through people touching clothes and trying them on after each other as it can through the air,” chief physician at the Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County Central Hospital Dr Tamás Farkas says. “If people can keep their distance and wear masks when they do not eat, being at a restaurant would not be more dangerous than being at a store.”

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