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Coronavirus: Gov’t Preparation for ‘Worst-case Scenario’ Results in Overbuying of Ventilators

Fanni Kaszás 2020.06.25.

At the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, according to Prime Minister Orbán, Hungary had a supply of 2,560 respirators to help treat those who are in intensive hospital care due to their severe symptoms caused by the virus. To prepare for the worst case scenario, the PM said they were on the hunt to buy more ventilators, as according to the calculations, the country would have needed at least 8,000 of the medical devices to be able to treat every severely ill person in case of mass infection and the disease “exploded” in Hungary. However, it turned out that the government has purchased a total of 16,000 ventilators so that “10,000 would surely arrive.”

However, the government had ordered double of this number, a total of 16,000 ventilators, to make sure that 10,000 will arrive to the country in time. This cost as much as HUF 300 billion (EUR 845 million) for the government. Tamás Menczer, state secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said on Wednesday that the government has ordered so many ventilators because they “wanted to avoid a situation seen in several Western countries where doctors had to select patients to put on a ventilator, determining who could live and who would die.” Menczer said that the ventilators not needed in Hungary will be resold. Some countries in Africa and Asia have indicated their interest in buying them, he added.

State Secy: Govt ‘Wanted to Avoid Deaths due to Lack of Ventilators’

After the peak of the epidemic passed in early May in the country, and the number of active cases started to decrease, more and more people recovered and ventilators still arrived to the country. Back in early June, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said that no one knows about the coronavirus pandemic in the future and whether there will be a second wave, but “we must be prepared for the worst case scenario.” Therefore, the China-Hungary air bridge continued to operate and cargo planes arrived with hundreds of ventilators every week.

Today, head of the Prime Minister’s Office Gergely Gulyás said at his weekly press conference that the surplus of the machines can be sold abroad in the near future since the epidemic is spreading fast in the world for the time being, so there is a demand. However, the government plans on keeping 9,000 machines to be prepared for a possible second wave of the epidemic. Some also pointed out though, that at the peak time of the coronavirus, the ventilators cost much more than otherwise, and although the surplus can be sold to countries in need, the Hungarian government is likely to lose money as the pandemic has started to decrease in more and more countries and borders are starting to re-open.

Coronavirus: Hungary to Buy More Ventilators in Fight Against Pandemic

Although the ventilators were purchased to prepare for the worst case scenario, even in the peak time of the epidemic, the highest number of those who required ventilator treatment was 80 at once, according to liberal 444.hu. Considering this data, the 16,000 machines purchased seems quite excessive – especially because even the Prime Minister said that in the worst case scenario, the country would need only 8,000 ventilators.

However, this was called irrational by experts, as they claimed the need for the 8,000 ventilators would occur if the number of active cases in Hungary at one time was 160,000, which means 16,000 simultaneous active cases per one million inhabitants. Yet such an active number of patients has not occurred in any European country. The number of active patients in Spain, which has been severely affected by the coronavirus – almost five times more populous than Hungary – was at 90,000 at the time, which was 1,800 simultaneous active cases per one million inhabitants.

Some experts also said that looking at the experience of epicenters in China and later in Europe, have shown that 80% of patients infected with coronavirus are more likely to get through the disease at home with mild symptoms or even without any symptoms. This means that even in the worst case scenario, only a small percentage of patients would require ventilator treatment. In a study conducted in Northern Italy’s largest hospital (one of the European epicenters of the virus), they found that out of the 611 people presented to the ED, 291 were eventually discharged home, while 320 were admitted to the hospital and 99 needed to be immediately started on ventilation support.

It is also important to note that these medical devices are not that useful without adequate infrastructure and technical support, as well as human resources. Many warned that the ventilators are not enough – hospitals also need the capacity and enough human resources to treat infected people with them and called on authorities to rather spend more money on adequate protective equipment for healthcare workers.

featured photo: Károly Árvai/MTI/kormany.hu