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Hungarian doctors treated a coronavirus patient for days with no protective gear

2020.03.13. 15:43 Módosítva: 2020.03.13. 15:43

Hungarian news site 444.hu managed to find the healthcare workers who had been in contact with the coronavirus patient who was previously treated in the Szent János Hospital. At Thursday's press conference of the government's coronavirus task force, officials never answered if they provided hospital staff with proper protective equipment or if they were tested for Covid-19 - but hospital staff told the website:

None of the doctors and nurses who made contact with the patient had protective gear, none had been tested, and they are still working.

That means that they are constantly in contact with other patients at the hospital too, and admission to the hospital department went on for half a day with the knowledge that a coronavirus patient is in one of the beds.

Hospital staff quoted in the article say that the patient had a fever for days when she called the toll-free coronavirus hotline on Saturday evening. An ambulance was sent which took the patient to the coronavirus centre at the Central Hospital of Southern Pest (DPC), where she spent a long time in a waiting room with several Iranian patients. But based on protocol, doctors assessed that she is not likely to have coronavirus; she had not been abroad and she never made contact with anyone suspected to have the disease. No tests were performed, and the patient was transferred to the Szent János Hospital on that night. A source at the hospital told Index that

the patient was not questioned properly, as doctors did not find out that she had been abroad; she went skiing near the Italian border.

For that reason, she was regarded as not having left Hungary recently and doctors assessed that the likeliness of Covid-19 is negligible in her case. On Tuesday, doctors noticed that the patient has pneumonia as well - this is when the DPC sent a test over to the Szent János hospital according to the article, our information suggests that a test was at hand at a different department of the Szent JÁnos hospital. The patient tested positive for the coronavirus and was taken back to the DPC.

But doctors in the Szent János Hospital treated the patient without proper masks and protective clothing from Saturday night until Thursday morning.

(The patient was treated in a separate room, therefore, she had no direct contact with other patients.) Index learned that while the proper protective gear is available at the hospital, but as stocks are not endless, they are not automatically accessible to anyone. The article wrote that none of the medical staff was tested, the hospital denied their request by saying that it is not likely that any of them spent more than 15 minutes in the patient's proximity, therefore the hospital cannot get more tests.

Index learned that doctors were also told that people without symptoms cannot infect anybody else, but at this point, that is a highly questionable claim - there is research suggesting that Covid-19 carriers without symptoms are the biggest spreaders. The article also informed that the hospital did not allow the afternoon shift to go home, while doctors and nurses who also treated the patient were still scheduled for their shifts, some already on Friday morning. 

On Wednesday, the Hungarian Medical Chamber already warned that a lack of protective gear may create problems for the Hungarian coronavirus response effort.

The coronavirus situation in Hungary

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


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.

(Cover image:  No. 2. Block of Internal Medicine at the Szent János Hospital in District XII of Budapest, Hungary. / MTVA/ Jászai Csaba)

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