Coronavirus: Infected tourists visited a thermal bath in Budapest

2020.03.04. 17:16

At the daily press conference of the Hungarian government's coronavirus task force on Wednesday afternoon, Chief Medical Officer Cecília Müller revealed details about the coronavirus-infected tourists who visited Budapest at the end of February.

As usual, the head of the task force Tibor Lakatos was the first to speak, who told reporters that there are still no coronavirus cases in Hungary. Lakatos said that authorities have screened 413 people who entered Hungary by air and 5405 people who arrived at the Budapest or at the Debrecen airport. The head of the task force also announced the launch of the website, which started after it had been delayed for over a week. It will provide up-to-date information on the Hungarian and international coronavirus situation, although only in Hungarian.

Chief Medical Officer Cecília Müller informed that there are 29 fully equipped isolation wards in Hungary, but could not tell how many are currently isolated at these wards. So far, Hungary performed 230 laboratory tests for the new coronavirus, all the samples returned negative.

Müller spoke at length about the infected tourists who visited Budapest at the end of February. Hungarian authorities have been conducting the contact investigation for more than 24 hours now, and have so far come up with the following:

  • The group consisted of four women, they arrived at the Hungarian capital with a non-stop long-distance line of Flixbus on 26 February. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs' spokesperson Tamás Menczer refused to reveal the exact time of the bus' arrival, telling a journalist that "publishing this information would not move the investigation forward, so we will keep it to ourselves." The women left Budapest on 28 February, as we reported yesterday.
  • Three of these four women fell ill, the earlier Czech notification mentioned only two because one of the infected students travelled back to Milan from Budapest by plane, from where she wanted to head back to the United States, but she stopped in Denmark and is currently staying in a Danish medical institution due to her deteriorating condition. The fourth woman was not infected. 
  • Authorities have the passenger list of the bus taken by the infected tourists, but they are still waiting for information about how passengers were seated. There were four Hungarian residents on the bus from Vienna to Budapest, and two on the bus from Budapest to Brno.
  • The group spent two days in Budapest. They were staying in a downtown Airbnb flat, and have never met the flat's owner in person. The flat was cleaned and disinfected, though Müller did not specify details.
  • Hungarian authorities interviewed the patients over Skype, and as Müller said, "they are not that sick."
  • The group typically got around in Budapest on foot. Being tourists, the group did not know the city well, so it was difficult to determine where exactly they have been by the interview.
  • They visited a ruin pub, crepe shop, pharmacy, and all four had spent an hour in the Széchenyi Thermal Bath.
  • Müller talked to the management of the Széchenyi Thermal Bath and was "greatly reassured" by learning that the spa introduced a new, more thorough disinfection and cleaning procedure just a week ago and also increased the water's chlorine content, and according to Müller, these measures successfully reduce the chance of the virus spreading. "Still," she added, "this is a disease that spreads from person to person, surfaces are insufficient for transmitting this extraordinarily vulnerable virus," though CDC's website currently says it is possible to get Covid-19 by touching a surface that has the virus on it, even if it is not the main way the virus spreads.
  • As for the non-chlorinated pools containing medicinal water, their temperatures are between 38-39°C, and Müller says this kills the lipid-layer covered virus. Still, authorities ordered a thorough emergency disinfecting cleaning at the spa, which had already been carried out since.
  • One of the four complained about a headache during their stay in Budapest, therefore they did not go to any restaurants - they ordered food online.
  • As to why staff members at the bath who could have contacted the women or the person delivering the food have not yet been quarantined, Müller could not answer, she said that she is still to receive all the data, authorities have not yet identified those who established close contact with the patients.

Müller stressed several times that they are looking for so-called "close contacts," people who were within two meters of the patient for an extended time. When asked why the Hungarian investigation is still ongoing while the Czech authorities have concluded theirs within ten hours, Müller first did not want to comment, but then said:

When handling an epidemic, it is of the utmost importance to strive for maximum safety, but with emphasis on the measures that are necessary. There has to be constant risk-analysis, we do not want to restrain people who do not have to be restrained, but we will consistently do that in any case where that is necessary.

FM spokesperson Tamás Menczer also informed about the Hungarians in quarantine on foreign soil: there is a truck driver in Italy (set to leave on 9 March), two Hungarian families in the quarantined Tenerife hotel, and a law student in Germany who was isolated after having coffee with an infected classmate.

The officials present at the press conference could not yet tell whether or not the coronavirus situation will affect the events of the upcoming national holiday on March 15, the situation changes day-to-day, and 15 March is still far away, Tamás Menczer said.

(Cover photo: Széchenyi Thermal Bath. Photo: István Huszti / Index)

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