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Hungarian official: "We cannot stop the virus, it is a pandemic that knows no borders."

D  TT20200204012
2020.03.13. 19:18

After the Friday meeting of the Hungarian government's coronavirus task force, response team leader Lakatos Tibor informed the press about the latest developments.

Lakatos recounted the three new cases announced earlier on Friday, and noted that case numbers are rising everywhere in the Central European region. He stated:

"We cannot stop the virus; it is a pandemic that knows no borders,"

adding that the government task force is still doing whatever they can to mitigate the epidemic. At this time, every minute counts, Lakatos said, and with the rising of case numbers, the number of contacts is also increasing, therefore from this point forward, the Hungarian police will intensely participate in the contact tracing of confirmed patients.

Lakatos stressed that the disease still did not enter into community infection in Hungary, there are only individual cases. He emphasised that the rumours claiming that the government is about to lock down the city of Budapest are baseless, adding that the task force made no such recommendations concerning any other areas either.

As per the measures introduced by the Hungarian government on Wednesday reinstating checks at the Austrian and Slovenian borders, authorities have checked 11,437 people and ordered 166 Hungarian citizens to quarantine themselves in their homes, hospitalised one foreign national suspected to have Covid-19, and turned back 144 foreign nationals at the border, Lakatos informed, adding that Hungary is only banning entry for foreign nationals who are arriving from countries that are considered coronavirus hot spots by the WHO.

Questions from the press

Answering questions from reporters at the press conference cut short to about 30 minutes by time constraints, Lakatos reiterated that there are plans to expand hospital capacities assigned to the coronavirus response, but did not reveal specifics. 

With regard to school closures, Lakatos said schools are to remain open until epidemiological experts recommend otherwise, but the question is on the agenda of the coronavirus task force. Until then, schools can decide if they accept absences excused by parents, or if they let students go home, but according to the government decree issued on Wednesday, they cannot call recesses.

(Since then, the Hungarian government said that they will come to a decision about school closures within the next 24 hours, as all parliamentary parties are in support of that step. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is scheduled to make an announcement at 9:15 PM on Friday.)

About the Hungarian Medical Chamber's complaint regarding the inaccessibility of protective gear for doctors, Lakatos said that correctional facilities are manufacturing 25,000 masks every day, mostly for medical workers, but a portion of these masks is distributed to pharmacies for the general population. Prices of protective gear and hand sanitizers are monitored, and relevant authorities will step in to protect consumers and cut back on price hikes that are not justified.

Masks manufactured in penitentiary institutes are getting more expensive because the prices of raw materials coming from China have also increased. Lakatos also said that all general practitioners will receive three special protective masks to be worn around suspected coronavirus cases. There are reserves, but the government is working on getting masks ordered by Hungary into the country, as they are currently stuck abroad due to similar export restriction that Hungary also introduced. "Let's hope that by next time, I will have better news to tell you," Lakatos added.

The coronavirus situation in Hungary

According to the latest update (10:05 AM) of the government coronavirus website,

IN HUNGARY, 19 PEOPLE WERE INFECTED, 1 RECOVERED, 79 ARE IN QUARANTINE, AND 858 SAMPLES WERE TAKEN FOR TESTING.

Confirmed cases in Hungary until now:

  • 4 March - Coronavirus first appeared in Hungary; two Iranian students tested positive after returning from their home country at the end of February, several contacts of one later tested positive as well.
  • 5 March - 69-year-old British man living in Hungary tested positive after returning from Milan on 29 February. His wife and another woman in contact with the man later tested positive.
  • 7 March - A 70-year-old Hungarian man was diagnosed with the virus, initial official information suggested his son infected him, this was later denied. His wife also tested positive two days later.
  • Another Iranian student, a Hungarian woman quarantined in the Szent János hospital, and a Hungarian man who recently returned from Israel tested positive on Thursday.
  • On Friday, three more Hungarian men also tested positive for the disease, bringing total number of cases to nineteen.
  • According to the latest official information (Thursday), one of the patients (an Iranian student) has already recovered, all of the others are in a satisfactory condition except for the 70-year-old Hungarian man treated at the ICU, but as János Szlávik informed the Chief Medical Officer, he seems to be getting better as well.

Hungary declared a state of emergency on Wednesday, and reintroduced border checks on the Austrian and Slovenian border, banned entry into Hungary from Italy, Iran, China, and South Korea, shut down universities, and banned all large public events.

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. The Hungarian Medical Chamber complained that the government does not provide doctors with sufficient protective equipment. On Thursday, it was found that doctors wore no protective gear as they treated an undiagnosed coronavirus patient for days at the Szent János Hospital in Budapest. Earlier, she was denied testing as the DPC ruled out COVID-19 upon initial questioning.

During his interview on public radio on Friday, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said "foreigners dragged this disease into the country," and previously, he told European leaders during a teleconference that "there is an obvious link between the coronavirus and illegal immigration." Earlier, the government suspended access to the transit zones on the southern border where asylum-seekers could apply for refugee status.

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 and was treated in Japan. He reportedly recovered, testing negative on Thursday.

Click here to find all our English coverage about the coronavirus situation in Hungary.

(Cover image: Response team leader Tibor Lakatos / Photo: Attila Kovács / MTI)

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