Coronavirus in Hungary: 42 people are still stranded at the Budapest airport

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2020.03.20. 18:13

Friday was the first time the Hungarian government's coronavirus task force held their conference online, in a studio without reporters. Journalists had to send their questions at least two hours before the press conference, Index received no answers.

Chief Medical Officer Cecília Müller recounted that the total number of coronavirus cases in Hungary jumped to 85 in the past 24 hours, and two patients died. They were 68 and 78 years old and suffered from previously existing conditions. Müller stressed once again that senior citizens, those above 65 should

stay at home.

The same goes for younger people with immune suppressive or chronic diseases, Müller said, adding that while young people also get infected, they are likely to go through the illness in a couple of days. She also said that house quarantine orders are compulsory, and asked

  • young people not to party,
  • Hungarians returning abroad to self-isolate,
  • employees to work from home,
  • and pensioners to stay at home.

42 still stranded at the Budapest Airport

Response team leader Tibor Lakatos said that there are no issues anymore at the entrance side of the Hungarian borders, but there is a 35 km row of cars at the Kiszombor-Cenad crossing on the Hungarian-Romanian border where police are distributing water amongst those waiting.

There are 42 people still stranded at the Budapest Airport.

They are either waiting to leave Hungary as a transit passenger, or they submitted a request to be exempted from the entry ban. In order to cope with the situation, the authorities provided them with beds and computers.

There are 3506 people currently in compulsory home quarantine, but there are many delinquents, Lakatos informed; police performed more than 13 thousand checks and found violations 69 times and started procedures in 58 cases. Police are also checking if shops obey the restriction of opening hours, three people were warned and 9 procedures were initiated.

More and more people are abusing the situation too, Lakatos mentioned a woman who was caught in Somogy county after trying to defraud people by impersonating a medical officer and demanding millions of forints for coronavirus decontamination services. Police have started 47 procedures and interrogated 22 suspects in similar cases.

The army gets involved

As of Thursday, the so-called "controlling groups" of the Hungarian Defence Forces are present at 71 vital businesses, army official Romulusz Ruszin said, explaining that their goal will be to ensure the safety of supply lines and to provide the management of these businesses with assistance and support. There are 140 companies on the list of vital businesses, you can find the precise list of the 71 businesses where soldiers have already shown up in this Hungarian article.

Ruszin also announced that military personnel will be assisting the police on the streets and in border defence. Earlier, the website of the Hungarian Defence Forces, reported that from 20 March, increased military presence is to be expected in Hungary as soldiers will be patrolling the streets of 15 major cities and towns. Their goal is to "increase the population's sense of safety and ensure public order through the visibility of military forces." Military patrols are entitled to intervene in crimes and hold the perpetrator back until police arrive. The patrols are preventive in nature, the website emphasised.

Questions from the press

National Police Headquarters spokesperson Kristóf Gál said that hundreds of questions arrived from journalists, so they were grouped by type, then started asking the questions from the officials present in the studio. Many asked about the two patients who died on Friday, Müller shared no new information beyond what we already know: they were both men above 65 and had pre-existing illnesses.

  • 444: At what stage of the epidemic do you think it would be appropriate to release geographical data on the infections?
    Once again, Müller said that authorities are in possession of all the necessary data, and there are infections in all regions of Hungary.
  • Magyar Hírlap: What is the difference between quarantine and self-isolation?
    Quarantine orders are compulsory and bring consequences if violated, self-isolation is voluntary, Müller said.
  • TV2: Do you plan to introduce measures to force senior citizens to stay at home? 
    The chief medical officer stressed that "we will not lock old people up, but we will repeatedly ask them to stay at home. Open the windows, or stay in the garden if you have a house."
  • Népszava: How many quarantine hospitals are you planning to open?
    Lakatos corrected the terminology and said they have created so-called "placement objects" where patients who no longer fit in hospitals could be accommodated. These are unused hotels and police objects.
  • ATV, Blikk: Experts complain about the masks saying that there is not enough protective equipment. Why don't at least healthcare workers have the FFP3 masks that protect the wearer?
    Healthy people have no need for masks, Müller said, adding that medical workers are using surgical masks as well. The special FFP3 mask is only required when treating confirmed coronavirus patients. Manufacturing is continuous, as raw materials have arrived into the country, Lakatos added that a shipment will be arriving tomorrow as well.
  • BBC: During a lockdown, would the same rules apply to journalists as to the general population?
    Lakatos said that authorities can grant journalists the freedom of movement only as long as they can guarantee that for anybody else, they trust journalists to take the necessary precautions. Lakatos asked reporters to think about where they go, and only travel if it is absolutely necessary, but there are no movement restrictions in Hungary and they are not planning to introduce any.

Index also sent several inquiries to the coronavirus task force, but we received no responses at the press conference or in writing. Here is a selection of our unanswered questions:

  • Is our information correct that there is a 13-year old patient? If so, why didn't anybody test the patient's classmates and teachers? We learned that they are decontaminating the affected downtown Budapest primary school, please confirm or deny our information.
  • What does "increased testing capacity" mean? How many tests can Hungary's seven accredited labs and the laboratory of the National Public Health Centre perform in a day?
  • More and more pregnant women contact us and say that the father will not be allowed to be present at the birth, even though Chief Medical Officer Müller said that healthy fathers can be present at the birth of their children, it is their right. János hospital already banned fathers from births, the Margit hospital has the same plan. What is the rule exactly?
  • What is the case number that would justify a lockdown according to the coronavirus task force?
  • Does the task force recommend fixing the prices of basic food items, medicines, protective equipment, and basic hygiene products in order to ensure their accessibility to low-income members of society?
  • Are there any plans for supporting large families where, due to school closures, both parents have to stay at home with their home-schooled children?

The coronavirus situation in Hungary

Hungary closed borders to all foreigners except for permanent residence permit-holding EEA citizens on Monday after declaring a state of emergency last Wednesday. This Wednesday, the Prime Minister announced an economic relief program which includes suspending all loan payments in the country until the end of the year. As of Monday morning, universities and schools are closed, education will continue remotely. All events are banned, cafes, restaurants, non-essential stores have to close at 3:00 PM each day (pharmacies, drug stores, grocery stores, tobacco stores, and gas stations can remain open longer). Hospitals in Hungary no longer accept visitors since last Sunday, doctors, medical staff, and public officials require special permits to travel abroad. Last 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 last Thursday.

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