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Hungarian Medical Chamber warns that doctors are unprotected from the coronavirus

2020.03.13. 14:00

Surgical masks do not protect doctors from Covid-19, Gyula Kincses, the President of the Hungarian Medical Chamber stated at a press conference held by the Chamber's leaders on Wednesday morning. The Ministry of Human Capacities says the Chamber is blackmailing the government in a time of crisis with their demands, the Chamber says they will in no way risk the stability of healthcare in the country.

Kincses repeatedly stressed that the government should provide sufficient protection for medical workers, as surgical masks only prevent spreading the disease, but do not protect healthy individuals - doctors tending to patients, for instance - from contracting the virus. Kincses stated that no protective equipment is available to medical workers in basic care and in most institutions except for the simple surgical masks manufactured in correctional facilities, and according to him,

"this makes medical workers the most vulnerable to the virus. We may have respirators, but they are not worth anything if there is no staff to operate them."

The Hungarian Medical Chamber is an independent democratic professional organisation consisting of all doctors in Hungary, membership in the Chamber is a prerequisite to medical practice. As such an organisation, Kincses said that they would like to participate in the coronavirus response effort, but they were only invited to a single meeting of the government's coronavirus task force. "The Chamber wants to cooperate with the government," Kincses said, "but for that, we need a serious government intention."

The President of the Medical Chamber added that the extraordinary situation makes it necessary for the government to provide medical workers with proper working conditions and wages since keeping them safe and retaining them within the healthcare system is crucial, as emphasised by the coronavirus situation.

Leaders of the Hungarian Medical Chamber at a press conference on Wednesday
Leaders of the Hungarian Medical Chamber at a press conference on Wednesday
Fotó: Bődey János / Index

Negotiations between the Chamber and the government about raising doctors' wages have been ongoing for some time now, and the chamber is collecting signed statements from doctors refusing voluntary overtime - but that does not constitute a strike according to Kincses, "medical workers are performing all their duties," he said, adding that the Chamber will not pressure the government in any way that risks the stability of healthcare.

Vice President of the Hungarian Medical Chamber Rita Lénárd said that Hungarian general practitioners only received 50 surgical masks each, and coupled with the facts that they do not protect from getting infected and that 

50% OF HUNGARIAN GENERAL PRACTITIONERS ARE ABOVE THE AGE OF 60,

this makes the country particularly vulnerable to coronavirus, which she characterised as "unacceptable." Based on doctors' feedback, the kind of masks that protect the wearer are unavailable to GPs and for hospitals as well, Lénárd said.

Ministry: This is blackmail!

The Ministry of Human Capacities (that is also responsible for healthcare besides a number of other areas) responded to the Medical Chamber's worries that same day. The Ministry stated that "an ample supply of proper protective equipment is available in all hospitals," and paramedics handling coronavirus patients and doctors examining them do so in full protective gear. The Ministry dismissed the Medical Chamber's claims by saying that there are 60.000 masks in Hungary that offer the highest level of safety, and the protocol ensures that general practitioners have minimal contact with suspected coronavirus patients.

The Ministry said that the Medical Chamber should know that GPs have to provide the conditions of their operation themselves and they are responsible for the safety of their patients as well - "if they do not know this, that is a big problem, if they do know this, but say the opposite, that is atrocious," the statement reads, adding that the state still helps them, for instance, by providing masks. With regards to the Chamber's demand to provide doctors with safe work environments and proper wages, and that doctors will still sign the statements refusing voluntary overtime, the Ministry said that it is "unprecedented that the Chamber tries to blackmail the government" during times of a pandemic.

Minister of Human Capacities Miklós Kásler
Minister of Human Capacities Miklós Kásler
Fotó: Bruzák Noémi / MTI

The Hungarian Medical Chamber responded on Thursday by saying that in accordance with their oaths, medical staff are working diligently and taking on huge risks, stressing that "we stated clearly and repeatedly: we will not risk the stability of the healthcare system with any action during an epidemiological threat. In the current situation, we regard unjustified incitement against doctors as a threat to national security."

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.

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.

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