Hungary: Coronavirus News – Just When Does Government 'Spin' Become Government Lies?
"I know this is a difficult concept to get across to a politician." Sir Humphrey (played by the late, South African-born Sir Nigel Hawthorne) at his most Baffling, Bewildering Best.
There is a famous scene* (one of hundreds) in the British sit-com series Yes, Prime Minister, in which the vain, hapless Jim Hacker – the UK premier – realises he has committed an unforgivable blunder: he has, albeit unknowingly, misled parliament at question time.
This awareness comes after Sir Humphrey Appleby, his obnoxious, ever-scheming permanent secretary, has launched into an 85-word, meandering monologue which – just as it is designed to – baffles poor Hacker.
Hacker, frustrated by the obfuscation, responds: “What are you talking about?”
To which, smart-arse Sir Humphrey, unusually succinct for once, raises his eyebrows and retorts: “You told ... a lie.”
I was reminded of this scene when checking on the official government coronavirus website this week.
Granted, Cecilia Müller, Hungary's Chief Medical Officer, is nothing like as insufferable as Sir Humphrey – in fact, she is rather sweet, and grandma-like, if a little bit prim - but the lady doctor can still obfuscate almost as well as the Oxford-educated classicist.
Take Wednesday morning, at the daily press conference, when Dr Müller, after praising Hungary's health-care workers for their key role in battling Covid-19, declared that the pandemic was developing “a little bit different from what we had envisaged”. In the past 10 or so days it had ceased its downward trend, hit a low and “reached a constant number, which doesn't really want to move,” she said, before repeating “These numbers are not changing”, and then warning that “we could be at the beginning of a third wave, possibly caused by new mutations”.
(The video is here: Dr Cecilia Müller begins her address at 10'-45'', naturally, in Hungarian. She begins her analysis of the pandemic data at 12'-30''. https://koronavirus.gov.hu/cikkek/orszagos-tisztifoorvos-tul-korai-lenne-jarvanyugyi-szabalyok-enyhitese ) In case you think the CMO might have been somehow misinformed (although, damn it, it's her job to inform!) the official daily updates, also available on the website, which have recently been taking the same line. “The epidemic has been successfully contained thanks to the consistent defence [measures], and the numbers have stagnated,” the text has stated for the past few days, before warning that the public must remain alert to the fact that a third wave threatens “in some European countries”. Now, let us look at the statistics, as reported not by some despicable George Soros-funded NGO, nor by “someone within the medical establishment on condition of anonymity”, nor by any other spurious source. No, let us take the official statistics on the government website, which are updated, regularly, every morning.
If you add up the daily numbers, you find that last week there were almost 11,000 new infections of Covid-19 detected - 10,967 to be precise - as reported Monday to Sunday. That is 2,058 more than the 8,909 new cases reported in the first week of February – a 23% increase week-on-week. I'm not at all sure how that - between a fifth and a quarter - equates to stagnation. And remember, last week's new cases were 11% up on the numbers for final week in January, which in turn were a small, 3.4%, increase over the previous seven days. Last Friday alone, new cases hit 2,020 – breaching the 2,000 threshold for the first time for about a month. Now it's possible the government might say: "But we're testing more people," a ruse indeed, at least one official tried some weeks ago. The problem with that is, it is, in effect, an admission that the earlier infection data, of which the authorities were so proud, was known to be under-stated.
How about deaths? Last week 616 souls passed away – the majority described (as always) “elderly and chronically sick”. More than 90 people died on each of the five weekdays.
This is an increase of 50, or almost 9% on the previous week, which in turn, was a small, near 2% increase on the last week of January. Cumulative deaths to date officially attributed to Covid 19 total just over 13,700.
As of this morning, there are some 77,600 infected people nationwide, with 3,755 in hospital.
But to insert some good news here, 335,200 people have been inoculated against the virus (about 3.4% of the population) of whom 128,000 have received their second jab. According to plans, GP s this week will inoculate all those most elderly (I assume over 60s) who require inoculation with the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, along with those under 60 who are chronically sick.
Prime Minister Orbán declared on Friday that, assuming doctors begin using the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine soon, all 2.5 million persons that have requested inoculation will be so treated by Easter. But to return to the current statistics state of infections and deaths, it is clear that the numbers, the trends, do not match the government rhetoric. The numbers have not stagnated. As this humbe blog has pointed out prevoiusly, they reached a low point around January 20-22 and have clearly been on the rise - naturally with some daily variation - since then, a good three weeks ago.
As the inimitable Sir Humphrey might advise** both Dr Müller's scriptwriter and the editors of the government website, ie in plain, incomprehensible English:
“Having collected, collated and examined all the publicly available data pertaining to the coronavirus pandemic since the beginning of the New Year, according to the Gregorian calendar, and with acknowledgement to the fact that, within the proliferation of any potentially pathological human virus there will be perturbations as part of the natural characteristics of said virus's expansion among the human population it is affecting, along with the inevitable variations, delays and misapprehensions within the complex monitoring process, the Perceptions-Budapest analytical team is able to report that the Covid-19 virus is perceptably, if still somewhat moderately, once again aggrandizing itself among the Magyar people.
And if your Hungarian answer to that is, quite understandably: “Mi csoda?”
Then, Sir Humphrey would likely respond, prefaced with a disarming smile: “Covid-19 infections and deaths in Hungary are, alas, increasing. That is to say, there are more of them. Every day. Look at your own numbers. They are getting bigger. And if you say they are stagnating, then, how can I put this, ... you are ... you are telling a lie.” I wish all readers a healthy, truth filled week.
* Yes, Prime Minister. The episode in question is entitled The Tangled Web, from 1988. SO2 EO8
after about 4.10 minutes
A transcript of the monologue, for both native and non-native English speakers is here. https://www.quotes.net/mquote/956899
**Sir Humphrey's response here is with apologies to Jonathan Lynn and the late Sir Antony Jay, the scriptwriters of the series, who would, of course, have made a far finer job of this post.