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Hungary to update coronavirus protocol within 24 hours

D NOE20200307021
2020.03.09. 18:44

The Hungarian coronavirus protocol will change within the next 24 hours to reflect changes in the WHO guidelines and the case definition, private clinics may soon start offering tests (but authorities regard these as unaccredited), and police presence will still be maintained at the Budapest hospital where Iranian students are quarantined, we learned at the press conference of the Hungarian government's coronavirus task force on Monday.

At the start of the press conference, head of the task force Tibor Lakatos informed that case numbers are rising everywhere in Central Europe and mentioned the two new cases in Hungary that were announced in the morning, bringing the total number of infected people in Hungary to nine.

Lakatos also said that the air traffic restrictions concerning Northern Italy that were announced on Sunday are already in effect, and as per the decision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,

Iranian citizens will not be allowed to enter Hungary even if they have a valid visa.

Lakatos added that this measure does not concern Iranian citizens already in Hungary with valid visas. 

Concerning the Iranian students in quarantine at the Central Hospital of Southern Pest (DPC), Tibor Lakatos said that they are still not cooperating (head of the DPC's contagious unit later said some were throwing chairs from their ward), they tried to circumvent quarantine regulations, so police presence will be maintained at the hospital. Lakatos reminded that non-cooperation with quarantine orders is considered a crime and foreign citizens could lose their visas in case they fail to comply with them. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs contacted the Iranian embassy to request their help to solve the situation.

All equipment and financial resources necessary for the coronavirus response are available. Lakatos also mentioned that hospitals and hospices in Hungary no longer accept visitors and that the Ministry of Human Capacities is preparing a recommendation package concerning larger events that the government's coronavirus task force will discuss on Tuesday.

The head of the contagious unit at the DPC, János Szlávik informed that all coronavirus patients in Hungary are still in a satisfactory condition except for the 70-year-old Hungarian patient who is treated at the ICU. The British patient currently at the Kenézy Gyula Hospital in Debrecen will also be transferred to the DPC. Szlávik said that the Hungarian students who returned from Northern Italy two weeks ago were released from quarantine yesterday, just like the two healthcare professionals who contacted coronavirus-infected Austrian patients. Szlávik also said that the DPC had taken steps to free up capacities to accommodate more cases or suspected cases.

Answering a journalist's question, Tibor Lakatos said that there are 1.2 million protective masks in stock reserved for the healthcare system, the 25 thousand masks manufactured every day in correctional facilities are distributed to pharmacies to supply the population.

Lakatos also reminded that fake news could cause great problems, the National Detective Agency monitors suspected fake news sites, and if they find news or posts that are capable of inciting panic, they will be investigated in cooperation with the National Media and Communications Authority, there are four criminal procedures already in progress in similar cases.

Index learned from one of the Iranian students in quarantine that the authorities contacted him through Facebook and he was uncertain about the legitimacy of the messages. Lakatos confirmed this information, saying that authorities did not find the student at his registered address and they did not have a contact person, an e-mail address, or a phone number to go on, and one of his classmates suggested authorities to try messaging the student on Facebook. Lakatos denied that the authorities threatened the students.

According to official information, the 70-year-old Hungarian patient currently treated at the ICU was "probably infected by his son who lives abroad and visited him in the middle of February after having been to Italy and Paris." However, the son living in Sweden contacted Index and said that he had not been to Italy, and when he was in Hungary, he had a fever, a lack of appetite, and a headache, so he went to his general practitioner. The doctor sent him to the DPC to get tested for Covid-19, however, the DPC assessed after a short questioning that he did have some viral disease, but it is not the coronavirus and released the man without testing.

János Szlávik said that the doctor that examined him assessed his condition by using a case definition, according to which the man had not been in areas affected by the virus at the time, and he was let go in accordance with the protocol. Szlávik said that the Swedish protocol does not allow him to get tested as he was in Sweden and remained healthy longer than the incubation period, but if he returns to Hungary, he can get tested at the DPC to be sure.

In connection with this, Szlávik announced that the Hungarian coronavirus protocol follows international standards, and it will be updated within 24 hours to reflect the changes in the WHO guidelines and the latest developments regarding the geographical and clinical aspects of the case definition.

Szlávik said that quarantined people, when locked together, do not get infected if they follow the directions they get concerning contact with other patients. If they obey the directions, they will be free in 14 days. If they do not obey directions, they have to restart the 14-day quarantine. By default, someone is considered healthy and fit to be released from quarantine if their test results are negative on three successive days.

When asked why Hungarian authorities are not testing more people and if testing in private clinics would anytime be available, Szlávik said that he has information suggesting private healthcare providers will soon offer tests, however, these would be considered unaccredited tests. The DPC has to obey the protocol, and will not be able to take unaccredited tests into account when assessing patients' conditions. Szlávik also informed that a coronavirus test costs approximately 10 000 forints.

He also said that screening, even of healthcare workers, is unnecessary. Szlávik elaborated that screening gives a false sense of security - if someone tests negative and has no symptoms, they can still be sick, testing is a diagnostic tool they are not screening medical staff routinely anywhere in the world. Szlávik added that Hungary has a sufficient stock of tests.

The coronavirus situation in Hungary

According to the latest update (8:44 AM) of the government coronavirus website,

IN HUNGARY, 9 PEOPLE ARE INFECTED, 67 ARE IN QUARANTINE, AND 362 SAMPLES WERE TAKEN FOR TESTING.

Confirmed cases in Hungary until now:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Two more cases were announced on Monday morning - a former Iranian student of Semmelweis University and the wife of the 70-year-old Hungarian man diagnosed on Saturday, bringing the total case number to nine.

Hospitals in Hungary no longer accept visitors as of Sunday, schools are advised to postpone class trips, doctors and medical staff are requested not to travel abroad.

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 Sunday, the government coronavirus task force announced that police presence was requested at the DPC for fears that Iranian students "might hurt doctors or nurses," and the Chief Medical Officer said that this is the procedure for suspected patients all over the world.

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.

(Cover photo: Tibor Lakatos. Photo: Bruzák Noémi / MTI)

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