Coronavirus in Hungary: Infected Iranian citizens watched by police in Budapest hospital

2020.03.08. 15:18

Tibor Lakatos, the leader of the Hungarian government's coronavirus task force announced that travel restrictions will apply to Italian areas currently under lockdown, and that police were called on the foreign students treated in the hospital, while government officials are urging calmness and cooperation. No reassuring answers were given concerning suspected cases being held together in the same ward.

Lakatos reiterated that the authorities are conducting contact investigations concerning all confirmed cases, and announced that the group of Hungarian students who were isolated after returning to Hungary from a school trip near Milan two weeks ago were released from quarantine on Sunday, there are 54 people currently isolated.  Lakatos also announced that

As of 9 MARCH 0:00 AM, air traffic between Hungary and areas within a 100 km of Milan and treviso will be shut down.

The Ministry of Human Capacities called healthcare workers not to travel abroad. The reorganization of hospital capacities to accommodate the growing number of suspected and confirmed cases is ongoing. The task force recommends hospitals and hospices to disallow visitors, and schools to postpone class trips.

Lakatos also talked about the quarantined Iranian citizens who initially resisted quarantine orders; police ultimately convinced them to take the ambulance to the Central Hospital of Southern Pest (DPC). But police presence was ordered at the hospital as well, Lakatos said:

"Overnight, we experienced that the infected Iranians are uncooperative towards medical staff and the authorities,  and we had to provide police presence at the Szent László Hospital [of the DPC] in order to avoid Iranian citizens potentially hurting nurses or doctors and to prevent them from leaving the hospital's premises in spite of the quarantine order."

A representative of the National Directorate-General for Aliens Policing (formerly known as the Office of Immigration and Nationality) also appeared at the hospital to inform foreign nationals about potential criminal and immigration-law consequences of non-cooperation.

As we reported earlier, foreign students held in quarantine at the DPC complained that they are held in hospital wards with 3-6 beds with potentially infected people and they get little to no information.

Government officials: Cooperation is key, supplies are safe

Tamás Schanda, Deputy Minister of Innovation and Technology said they are requesting universities to notify their students and teachers in Hungarian and in English about the coronavirus situation and to inform them about the consequences of disobeying quarantine orders.

"The responsible actions of individuals are vital for preventing the further spread of the virus."

In order to protect consumers, the ministry started checking stores selling protective equipment to prevent unrealistically high pricing or sales of low-quality products. Continuous supply in commerce is safe.

Tamás Menczer, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reminded that senior citizens are most at risk and stressed that Hungarian government measures are "never against people, countries, or anything, they are always for something, this time, they are for safety," which is why cooperation and avoidance of panic is key.

Reflecting on the major lockdown announced in Italy today, Menczer said that as the situation is constantly changing, it is impossible to predict what areas governments would draw under quarantine, therefore he urged those travelling abroad anywhere to register their presence at the local embassy - though Menczer only talked about Hungarians abroad, this advice obviously applies to expats living in Hungary as well.

Chief Medical Officer: 70-year-old patient in the ICU

Chief Medical Officer assessed the situation: there are 7 confirmed coronavirus patients in Hungary, four are Iranian citizens, two are Hungarian, and one is British, and recounted the details of the sixth and seventh cases we wrote about here. The contact investigations were expanded to include the contacts of the last two infected patients, but all contacts of the first Iranian students are under observation in quarantine.

All patients are in "satisfactory condition" except for the 70-year-old Hungarian man who had pre-existing medical conditions - he is currently being treated at the ICU of the DPC, and is considered a high-risk patient, his condition is "not good." 

In an earlier version of our article, we wrongly reported the British patient to be in the ICU. The patient in the ICU is the 70-year-old Hungarian patient who was the fifth to be infected. We apologise for the mistake.

Questions from the press

Responding to a question about the complaints of foreign students concerning 3-6 people being placed in the same observation ward, Lakatos said confirmed and suspected cases are strictly separated, suspected patients being placed in the same ward is "standard procedure" in line with international guidelines.

Index's reporter asked for clarification, since a suspected patient that later tests positive could still infect other suspected patients in the same ward as they are waiting for the test results. Chief Medical Officer Cecília Müller said that the so-called "cohort isolation" of confirmed cases is acceptable, and said the following about suspected cases:

"The rule is that if case numbers are high - remember that certain cruise ship, or what happened in Germany [...] - the ideal thing to do is to separate those under observation into smaller groups, because if one of them tests positive during the incubation period, then that person can be lifted from the group, and only those within the same group would be considered 'close contacts.' There is no place on Earth where suspected patients under observation are placed individually."

In response to our question about the hospital allegedly refusing the students' request for individual placement because of a lack of space, Müller answered: 

"There is no such obligation, professionally, there is no reason to provide individual placement for them; this is unrealistic. There is space in the hospital [...]. We maintain separate spaces for those who need treatment as they tested positive and are sick, and separate spaces for those under quarantine. It is conceivable that once we exhausted the possibilities at the DPC, we will expand care in accordance with a precisely defined plan. The most important thing is to separate patients from those under observation, as we are doing so."

Lakatos added that only people who know each other are placed in the same ward. Lakatos said he has no information concerning the claim that Iranian students showed up at the DPC for testing on Wednesday only to be turned away before being ultimately taken in by paramedics on Saturday morning.

The coronavirus situation in Hungary

According to the latest update (11:45 AM) of the government coronavirus website,


This data does not yet account for the group of Hungarian students released from quarantine on Sunday, the actual number according to the Chief Medical Officer is 54.

Confirmed cases in Hungary so far:

  • Hungary announced the first two cases in the country on Wednesday, two Iranian university students studying in Budapest and Gödöllő were infected on their (independent) trips to Iran. The first two patients and their partners are in isolation at the Central Hospital of Southern Pest (DPC).
  • Two more confirmed cases were announced on Thursday, one is a 69-year-old British man living in Debrecen who returned from Milan by plane last Friday, the other is the girlfriend of one of the Iranian students.
  • fifth case was announced on Saturday morning, a 70-year-old Hungarian man in poor health tested positive. The sixth patient is the wife of the British patient diagnosed on Thursday. 
  • The seventh person to test positive was another Iranian student who attended a birthday party with one of the first two confirmed coronavirus patients.

On Saturday, the Hungarian government cancelled their main event on the March 15th national holiday. The City of Budapest and the opposition parties soon followed suit.

Quarantined foreign students complain that they are held together with 2-5 other, potentially infected people and they want to self-isolate in their homes. Two Iranian students first resisted going into quarantine, but police convinced them to take the ambulance to the DPC - authorities warn that disobeying quarantine orders is a crime.

On  Friday, Hungary suspended issuing Visas to citizens of Iran due to the coronavirus outbreak in the country. Earlier, the government suspended access to the transit zones on the southern border where asylum-seekers could apply for refugee status.

Neighbouring Serbia also announced their first coronavirus case on Friday, according to Serbian Minister of Health Zlatibor Lončar. The 43-year-old man tested positive on Friday morning after returning to Serbia from a visit to his sister in Budapest, who was exhibiting flu-like symptoms. At the Friday press conference of the Hungarian government's coronavirus task force, Chief Medical Officer Cecília Müller commented that the visit happened more than two weeks ago, beyond the known incubation period of the virus, so this case should not be cause for alarm according to her.

Authorities were also retracing the steps of a group of infected tourists who spent several days in Budapest at the end of February before testing positive for the virus days later in Prague. So far, it seems that they visited a ruin pub, a crepe shop, a pharmacy, and the Széchenyi Thermal Bath.

The first Hungarian citizen to contract Covid-19 was a man who worked on the cruise ship Diamond Princess was confirmed to have the disease at the end of February, he is still being treated in Japan.

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