Virus spiking in eastern Europe; Hungary drafts 'war plan'

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Two women hold hands and carry face masks in downtown Prague, Czech Republic, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020. The Czech Republic is returning to mandatory mask wearing in interior spaces amid a steep rise in new coronavirus cases. Starting Thursday, people across the country need to cover their face in all public places, including stores, shopping malls, post offices and others but also in private companies where employees cannot keep a distance of 2 meters from one another. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

BUDAPEST – The number of new confirmed coronavirus cases spiked Friday in parts of eastern Europe, with Hungary and the Czech Republic registering all-time daily highs. Signs of the pandemic's resurgence were also evident in Britain and the Netherlands.

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," 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.

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. In Budapest, Hungary's capital city, people not wearing a mask on public transit or wearing one can be fined 8,000 forints ($26.50).

While Hungary closed its borders to foreigners on Sept. 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,” Orban said.

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.