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Coronavirus spreads to Hungary, two cases found

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2020.03.04. 18:40

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced in a Facebook video on Wednesday evening that two Iranian citizens studying in Hungary tested positive for Covid-19.  

The Prime Minister spoke in a video recorded after the meeting of the government's coronavirus task force. The two Iranian students show no symptoms, they were taken into the Central Hospital of Southern Pest for isolation and treatment. Index learned that one of the patients studied pharmaceutical sciences at the Semmelweis University of Medicine (SOTE) in Budapest and initial information suggested the other patient studied at the University of Győr, but this was denied by the university's press contact later on Wednesday night.

At the task force's subsequent press conference, János Szlávik, the Head of Infectology at the Central Hospital of Southern Pest told journalists that the students tested positive on Wednesday, later tests confirmed these results. The spouse of one and the girlfriend of the other patient were also isolated. ATV's information suggests that the two students returned from Iran on 22 February. 

Authorities are still investigated how they contracted the disease, where they moved within Hungary, and whom they contacted. Both students had visited their families in Iran recently. One of them asked for a test voluntarily to see if he was infected in Iran, while the other patient was tested despite showing only light symptoms. Szlávik said none of the patients has a fever and they only exhibit minor symptoms, all in all, they are physically well, but they are facing further tests and will remain in isolation until their complete recovery.

The government's task force will hold meetings at noon every day at noon as Orbán Viktor announced in his video, after which they will inform the press about the most recent developments. The Prime Minister also said that the legislation necessary to handle the situation is in place and Hungary has sufficient stocks of masks and other necessary equipment.

Shortly after 8:00 PM, Semmelweis University's statement confirmed that one of the university's foreign students tested positive for coronavirus. The English-language pharmaceutical sciences program at SOTE has 15 other students, the university ordered those who had contact with their infected classmate not to attend lectures and seminars. The university will implement further safety measures and its festival for international students originally planned for this Saturday will be postponed.

The Semmelweis University Student Body writes that the rector informed them that the infected student did not adhere to the two-week self-quarantine requested by the university despite having arrived back from a country where the coronavirus already appeared.

According to the government's coronavirus website, there are 21 people currently under quarantine in Hungary, and 230 tests were performed.

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Coronavirus appearing in neighboring countries

Looking at the events of the past few weeks, it is hardly a surprise that Covid-19 appeared in Hungary. After the first major outbreak in Italy, cases kept turning up in neighboring countries. In Italy, the virus is mostly present in the North, on some days, case numbers increased by as much as 50%. At the present moment, there are 2502 registered cases in Italy with 79 fatalities, but 160 people have recovered.

Once it started spreading in Italy, it quickly appeared in Austria, Croatia, and Switzerland. In Germany, the infection likely originated from an employee of a German company who recently arrived back from Wuhan - so far, there are at least 244 cases in the country.

There are 27 known cases in Austria. First, two cases were found in Tirol, but other infections were reported from Lower Austria, Vienna, Salzburg, and Steyr-land. Austria has performed 1826 tests until now, and the Ministry of Health expects this week to be crucial in determining what course the virus will take in Austria.

Nine infected in Croatia

Another case was found in Rijeka on Sunday who is believed to have contracted the disease in the city after having contact with another identified patient, marking the seventh case in Croatia - currently, four people are being treated for coronavirus in Zagreb and three in Rijeka. News of coronavirus spreading to the country had negatively affected the Zagreb stock exchange as well: all in all, investors had lost over €1 billion due to plummeting stock prices.

Four cases were discovered in Romania as well; a 45-year-old man in Maramureș County and a 38-year-old woman in Timiș county tested positive after returning from Italy, but the first Romanian coronavirus patient is reported to have tested negative on repeated examination according to the latest news. There are 182 people held in quarantine and 8231 people were under observation.

Covid-19 also appeared in Poland, and at the end of February, a group of infected tourists visited the Hungarian capital as well, though it seems that the current cases are most likely not related to that. The first Hungarian citizen to catch the virus worked on the cruise ship Diamond Princess, he is currently being treated in Japan.

What happens in Hungary now that the virus is here?

We most likely have to prepare for similar scenes and preventive measures that we already saw in other European countries affected by Covid-19 - travel restrictions, quarantines are not out of the question, though it may be early to talk about these options. However, people are generally advised to follow the requests of the relevant authorities.

Global passenger and freight traffic makes it inevitable for a pandemic to reach nearby countries once the authorities in one lose control over the disease. Of course, in a critical situation, measures that seem inconceivable today may be implemented, but the closure of the EU's internal borders seems highly unlikely, as even WHO's general recommendation advises against border restrictions, as they stifle mutual relief efforts and increase the secondary damage caused by the pandemic.

Today, epidemics infecting entire countries are not dangerous because of their lethality, but because of their effects on public services: an out-of-control epidemic takes resources away from the healthcare system, patients may not receive proper care, and in a radical scenario, it's possible that even the isolation of infected patients becomes problematic. Ultimately, such an epidemic may even jeopardize the day-to-day operation of the state: supply chains could break down, shops could run out of basic food products, public transportation could no longer function, etc., which is the real danger of such a situation.

What to do if I suspect I have the virus?

On Monday, the Hungarian Chief Medical Officer Cecília Müller told journalists at a press conference that according to the latest, updated protocol,

those who suspect they have Covid-19 should under no circumstances go to the general practitioner.

Instead, anyone who feels that they might have caught the disease (who exhibit symptoms and have recently returned from infected areas) should call their general practitioner on the phone. The doctor will then ask the patient a series of questions to determine the likelihood of infection and will inform emergency services if they suspect a possible case. An ambulance will then take the patient to the closest contagious unit, and if the throat swab lab test returns positive, the patient will be transferred to the Central Hospital of Southern Pest for isolation and treatment.

(Borítókép: Ambulance staff examining the passengers on a bus on 5 February 2020 at the Letenye border crossing. Fotó: MTI/Varga György)

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