Authoritarian leaders may use Covid-19 crisis to tighten their grip

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Hungary’s PM insists extreme measures are only to fight the pandemic, others are not so sure

The coronavirus has already overwhelmed medical services, grounded flights and halted economic growth, but one of its most enduring effects could be to usher in a political age in which soft authoritarians have turned harder, and the surveillance state becomes a way of life even in some democracies.

In Hungary, after a set of measures introduced on Monday, it is now a criminal offence to spread misinformation about coronavirus, and the prime minister, Viktor Orbán, can rule by decree for an indefinite period. In neighbouring Serbia, soldiers patrol the streets as part of the coronavirus response plan. In Moscow, authorities are reportedly mulling measures that would require everyone who wants to go outside to submit the reasons online, and then be tracked via their smartphones.

Related: The Guardian view on Hungary’s coronavirus law: Orbán’s power grab | Editorial

Related: For the new right, Hungary is now what Venezuela once was for the left | Nick Cohen

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