First, the good news (says gov't): Hungary & Russia to further strengthen cooperation in health-care
And the Bad: Covid Numbers Explode - Infections top 6,000 on four consecutive days
Miklós Kásler, Hungary's Minister of Human Resources (right), greets Mikhail Murasko, the Minister of Health of Russia, on his visit to Budapest last week.
Logging onto the government website for the latest news on the pandemic this morning, I was greeted with the story: Hungary and Russia to further strengthen cooperation in health-care development (see above). Well, I'm sure there are Hungarians and even some of the Russians residents who will be happy to hear this. The Ministry of Human Resources added that Hungarian experts will have the opportunity to test the Sputnik-V vaccine, developed by Russia against the coronavirus, in Russian laboratories certified by the World Health Organisation as early as next week. I'm sure we all wish them well in their endeavours. But let's dwell with that news item a minute: the eagle-eyed might wonder why the Russian VIP did not meet his exact counterpart. The answer is simple: Hungary has no Ministry of Health as such: it was merged into the new "Super Ministry" of Human Resources by an earlier Fidesz-led administration, all in the name of administrative efficiency. Unfortunately, the country has been experiencing something of the efficiency of the “reformed” administrator of health care this week. True, until Thursday morning, the official numbers were looking hopeful: infections were around 3,700 a day and deaths a little above the 100 level – both better than could have been expected last Sunday. Then things began to deteriorate, badly, with Covid-19 infections topping 6,000 for four consecutive days. This morning saw 6,819 fresh cases reported, with 156 newly deceased – both new daily record numbers for Hungary. (By the way, this is exactly the time when Chief Medical Officer Cecília Müller predicted the positive effects of the restrictions introduced earlier in the month should be taking effect.) It brings the number of new infections for the week to just over 36,900 – busting the 5,000 level per 24-hours for the first time at 5,272 for every day of the week. The result as of today is 151,218 active cases in the country, 18% up on last Sunday and means three in every two hundred of the population are currently officially suffering from the virus, Hospitals are now treating almost 7,600 Covid-19 patients, with 657 on ventilators. The death rate is a fraction under 125 a day. While these are the official statistics, it's ever clearer that the true numbers of infections are under-reported. As one reader from a town outside Budapest wrote to me last week: I'm pretty sure [my wife] has Covid. I am sleeping in the same bed, so I'm also sure that I have anti-bodies (no symptoms). She has been ill for two weeks, and, at the beginning, we called our doctor, who is also a personal friend. He said nothing about testing, and we didn't ask, because knowing would not change the circumstances. We would just stay inside, like we have been. She is now improving slightly, so I'm guessing that in another two weeks or so, she will also be symptom-free. Her illness has prompted discussions with local friends and neighbours. We have discovered that there is a giant sub-section of the population who have symptoms, but we all know there is no cure but time, so we are all going unreported, unless we get severely ill. Then, and only then, are people going to hospitals and doctors. At least 20 people in my circle of acquaintance are, or have been, ill without an official report being made. Meanwhile, [junior and infant] school children are still attending live classes. I have driven past the schools (there are 3 in our town clustered together) as the day ends, and have seen the older kids gathering on the sidewalks and sitting on stone walls, with no masks, too close to one another. Social distancing is not happening there. If the police will not enforce the rules in public, and the parents are unwilling to properly supervise their children, we are in for a bumpy ride. Indeed, Gergely Gulyás, head of the Prime Minister's Office, said last Thursday that the current infection statistics look bad because of the increased testing now being undertaken – an indirect admittance that the seeming good numbers earlier – for which the government repeatedly beat its chest at the time – were under-reported. Mr Gulyás somehow avoided this alternative interpretation of the numbers, rather stressing that no new restrictive measures were considered necessary at Wednesday's cabinet meeting. Understandable, perhaps – but that was before the awful run of numbers which started the next day. And if the current trend continues unabated, methinks tighter regulations will be at the top of the agenda at this week's government pow-wow. Oh, and in other news, the Hungarian and Polish prime ministers reaffirmed on Thursday that they will block the planned seven-year EU budget and EUR 750bn pandemic recovery fund because they refuse to accept any linkage between EU funding and rule of law conditionality. This, the two say, would open the doors to 'political attacks' by Brussels, and could even lead to the break up of the European Union. It seems a bumpy ride - or two - seems guaranteed this winter.