Coronavirus: Romanians, Bulgarians briefly allowed through Hungary’s closed borders

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In a one-off occasion to alleviate the long queues of Romanian and Bulgarian guest workers amassed at the border with Austria, Hungary opened a humanitarian corridor Tuesday night to allow guest workers to return home after Hungary closed its borders.

On Tuesday, Hungary closed its borders to private traffic, banned all public events and reduced the opening hours of most shops, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced in parliament on Monday.

All shops except supermarkets, pharmacies and tobacco shops (Hungary has a dedicated network of tobacco shops, with cigarettes only available there) will have to close by 3:00 p.m. every day, and international private traffic will not be permitted to enter the country—the ban also extends to Hungary’s two permanent international airports in Budapest and Debrecen.

On Tuesday, Hungary also designated corridors for the transport of goods, which will be allowed to continue. On these designated transit corridors, truckers will operate and have access to only a limited number of truck stops and petrol stations where they can refuel and rest in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Hungary has also begun talks with its northern neighbour, Slovakia, about possibly partly restoring access to private traffic after long queues have formed at those border crossings as well.

With Hungary so far having had struggled with a serious workforce shortage, many Slovak citizens are employed in northern Hungary—mainly at the Suzuki and Audi car assembly plants there.

By now, however, three of the four major foreign-owned car plants in Hungary  (Audi, Mercedes and Opel) have announced they are suspending production for an indefinite time.

In Audi’s case, this decision is part of group-level shutdown of all European plants, including those in Slovakia.

The fourth large car manufacturer, Japan’s Suzuki Corp, has introduced a ban on cross-border travel of its employees and instituted sanitary measures but has not yet shut down production.

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