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Coronavirus in Hungary: Four of the twelve cases were diagnosed only by repeated testing

D NOE20200307029
2020.03.10. 16:06

At the press conference of the Hungarian government's coronavirus task force, officials said that a third of coronavirus cases in Hungary were only found upon repeated testing, and the government is not yet implementing extraordinary measures concerning mass events but they are urging people over 60 to avoid these. 

Tibor Lakatos, the head of the task force, recounted that there are 12 coronavirus cases in Hungary, and gave a brief overview of the worldwide and European numbers, assessing that the number of recoveries is going up as well. With regards to the lockdown in Italy, he announced that they are planning to screen travellers arriving from the country and asked Hungarian citizens arriving from Italy to stay at home for 14 days. 

The coronavirus task force made recommendations to the government regarding sports events, the government will decide tomorrow, and the task force advises against holding events on the March 15th national holiday. Lakatos urged people over 60 to avoid large public events.

Chief medical officer: 4 out of 12 patients were diagnosed only on repeated testing

Chief Medical Officer Cecília Müller said that the three newly diagnosed Iranian students of Semmelweis University all contacted the first patient at a party they attended. 

Müller explained that Hungarian epidemiological authorities are testing all contacts in accordance with WHO guidelines, performing repeated tests as well, which is how four of the 12 cases were discovered. Coronavirus is difficult to diagnose, repeated tests are necessary, Müller explained, and as their initial tests were negative, "if we had let these students go, they could have walked around freely, infecting others," and for this reason, following WHO guidelines is key. WHO is about to update their guidelines once again, so Hungarian authorities are preparing to update the testing protocol and the case definition accordingly.

No extraordinary measures yet

Even though the task force has considered them, no extraordinary measures such as closing schools or postponing mass events will be introduced in Hungary yet, Tibor Lakatos responded to Index's question but said later that the current case number does justify considering such a decision. For now, the draft recommendation only concerns sporting events where lots of spectators are expected. The coronavirus task force has not made any recommendations concerning travels of government members, "they are expected to make the responsible call."

With regards to the Hungarians returning from Italy, Müller said that the same protocol will apply to them as to anybody else in Hungary. She talked about a plan to allow them across the border in one go, with paramedics standing by to take temperatures and perform initial questioning.

Müller asked those returning to Hungary from Italy to be responsible and if possible, self-isolate for fourteen days.

Who infected the 70-year-old man?

There were lots of questions concerning the 70-year-old Hungarian man diagnosed on Thursday, currently treated at the ICU of the DPC. According to initial government information, the man may have been infected by his son who arrived from France to meet him in the middle of February. But the man was previously operated in the Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Hospital, and as the Chief Medical Officer confirmed, 16 medical workers were taken to the DPC for observation, their initial tests were all negative.

Müller said that the contact investigation has been extended to the hospital as well. As Müller revealed, authorities found that the son had not met his father at all before his infection, he could have been infected by the mother. Another journalist reminded that the son told Index that he took his father to the hospital himself, Müller said  "both versions could be true," epidemiological experts can only speak in conditional, which is why they are examining all possible scenarios and testing another man who was in the same ward of the Bajcsy-Zsilinszky hospital. Though Müller believes that the chance that the fifth patient was already infected at the time is small, he fell ill two days after his release from the hospital.

Chief Medical Officer Müller straight-up denied information suggesting that an Iranian student was asked to keep quiet about his results and taken back to the observation ward after testing positive. Müller said that confirmed cases are strictly isolated from suspected cases.

Hospital capacities being freed up

Müller also informed that the task force called on several medical institutions to free up their capacities and establish isolation areas to be ready in case the coronavirus response has to be expanded, the Semmelweis University's Kútvölgyi clinic is already being emptied. She also informed that the Hungarian healthcare system has 1600 breathing machines and at least 20 more are in storage.

Lakatos said that the official government website will soon have an English section as well, and operators of the government's coronavirus information hotline (+36 80 277 455 and +36 80 277 456) all speak English. 

The coronavirus situation in Hungary

According to the latest update (14:25 AM) of the government coronavirus website,

IN HUNGARY, 12 PEOPLE ARE INFECTED, 53 ARE IN QUARANTINE, AND 531 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.
  • Three other Iranian students of the Semmelweis University tested positive on Tuesday.
  • The latest official information (Monday) is that all patients are in satisfactory condition except for the 70-year-old Hungarian man who is being treated at the ICU.

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 Monday, the government has allocated more than 8 billion Forints (~€24 million) for the coronavirus response.

On Friday, Hungary suspended issuing Visas to citizens of Iran due to the coronavirus outbreak in the country, on Monday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided to deny entry into the country for Iranian citizens with valid visas as well - this does not affect those who are already in Hungary. 
Earlier, the government suspended access to the transit zones on the southern border where asylum-seekers could apply for refugee status.

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. As announced on Monday, the Ministry of Human Capacities is preparing a recommendation about larger events in Hungary.

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 standard procedure for suspected patients all over the world. On Monday, the coronavirus task force informed that they will maintain the police presence as the quarantined students are still non-cooperative. 

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: MTI/Bruzák Noémi

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