According to a recent analysis by Portfolio.hu, there may currently be around 270,000 active coronavirus cases in Hungary, approximately 20 times more than the confirmed number.
In concrete terms, assuming an even distribution throughout the country, roughly every 36th person you meet is likely to be infected. This means that on a typical Mercedes bus in Budapest which has a capacity of 66 passengers, even if the bus is barely over half full, on average there will be one person who has the virus. All this echos the words of infectologist János Szlávik, who said a few days ago:
“Almost everyone has someone in their environment who is infected.”
The government’s recent decision to introduce new protective measures therefore appears more than necessary.
Ever since the beginning of the pandemic, it has been widely understood that confirmed case numbers do not accurately represent the number of people infected with coronavirus. During the first wave, a large-scale national survey showed that the number of real cases was around 15 times higher than confirmed infections at the time, although most had run their course by then. There have since been many changes to the factors that influence the multiplier, but it has almost certainly increased.
At the beginning of September, Béla Merkely, rector of Semmelweis University stated:
“The real number is about 20 times that of confirmed cases. Based on this, there would have to be around 100,000 current infections in Hungary.”
Around the same time, famous physicist and network scientist Albert-László Barabási, used the same numbers in his own calculation in a Facebook post. Mathematician Gergely Röst, director of the Pandemic Mathematical Group also said that the detection rate has likely fallen during the second wave, which he attributes to more of the infected being asymptomatic young people. Currently, a further important source of uncertainty associated with the number of real cases is the likelihood of having achieved maximum testing capacity.
Portfolio.hu arrive at 270,000 current infections by taking daily confirmed case numbers and using the same multiplier as the experts above: 20. They assume that the infection lasts 14 days, so current numbers are only based on those of the last two weeks. While this calculation deals with a lot of uncertainty, based on the opinions of experts in the field, it seems a reasonable approximation of reality, certainly enough to provide some perspective on how careful one has to be around others.
Featured photo illustration by Tamás Vasvári/MTI