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Coronavirus: Communication Problems with Iranians Quarantined

Fanni Kaszás 2020.03.11.

Last Wednesday, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced on his Facebook page that the first coronavirus patients were identified in Hungary. The Iranians, and those whose tests turned out positive since then, a total of 13 people, are currently being treated in the Szent László Hospital in Budapest and in Debrecen. Their close contacts have been identified and quarantined. Since then, contradictory information has been circulating of the conditions in the quarantine. While several quarantined Iranian university students have claimed that they were locked up for hours with one of their infected peers, Cecília Müller, the National Chief Medical Officer, ruled this out at Tuesday’s press conference and strongly denied it.

While the operative board denies that they are keeping the students uninformed and in bad conditions, the students have shown on their Instagram pages their life at the hospital. A Swedish-Iranian double citizen talked to index.hu, claiming they are lacking information on the coronavirus and testing, and the communication with the healthcare staff is poor mainly because they do not speak English. Some of the quarantined Iranians were even locked up with those who tested positive or were seemingly unwell for a period of time. The girl also said that one of her peers was asked by the hospital staff to keep their positive result a secret from their roommates to avoid panic, as they do not have enough space to separate everyone.

The Iranian student also responded to authorities’ and pro-government press information in Instagram stories (which disappear after 24 hours, but can be pinned in the highlights). According to the girl, the police tried to contact her through Facebook without identification, and threatened her if she did not cooperate. She said that they were brought in to the hospital during the night, and since then they havent been given much information. The girl said that the main problem is that the hospital staff does not speak English very well; nevertheless, the students are following instructions and trying to cooperate.

She has been in quarantine for five days now and the first test came back negative. According to information, the second test will be next week, while a third one at the end of the quarantine period. The student also claimed that the hospital does not comply with WHO standards or international protocols.

Iranians not cooperating?

On Monday, the head of Hungary’s operative board in charge of handling the new coronavirus outbreak said that two Iranian students who are being detained at South Pest Central Hospital suffering from the Covid-19 disease have tried to evade quarantine rules. According to the board, the students had shown “unacceptable behaviour at night and during the day,” did not cooperate with the doctors, and they even “threw chairs out of the ward.” Since then, the government has announced that people who refuse to cooperate will be detained by the immigration police for six months, which can be extended for another six months, before being deported.

Cecília Müller, the National Chief Medical Officer firmly denied at yesterday’s press conference that the healthcare staff at the quarantine facility at South Pest Central Hospital told an Iranian patient not to tell their peers that he tested positive because they could not be placed elsewhere. Müller said she “refuses to accept this statement to be true. When one tests positive, they are immediately regarded as sick and need to be isolated.” She also said that Hungarian epidemiological authorities follow WHO recommendations for the detection of coronavirus and even go beyond these standards. All contact cases are tested in a laboratory, but the detection of the virus is not easy.

A different experience

At the same time, the seond of the first two infected students (from Szent István University) and his pregnant wife, who tested negative but is currently quarantined, decided to tell liberal news portal hvg.hu what happened to them in the first week and what they thought of the panic that had developed since then, which is different from the other students’ experiences. Hvg.hu even posted a video recorded by the girl from her room in quarantine.


The Iranian student said he traveled to Iran to a conference a day before the Iranian government announced the outbreak in the country. When he came back, he was surprised that the screening at the airport was a simple fever test, and although he had no symptoms, he asked the hospital to do a test. When he tested positive, both he and his wife went in to the hospital, where he spends his time reading, studying, and browsing the internet. His wife has since been separated from him as she tested negative.

His wife heard that the other students sometimes shouted with doctors and nurses, which they thought was due to fear and communication problems. The Iranian student said he recognizes the linguistic barriers between them and the staff, especially when it comes to medical terms, but he believes everyone is doing their best and those in quarantine are mainly just afraid of the whole situation.

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