In Hungary, the number of tests is very low, and the government does not plan to introduce free testing, as announced at a recent press conference during which PMO Gergely Gulyás was asked about the topic. The government believes that what helps to keep the pandemic under control is vaccination.
PMO Gergely Gulyás said yesterday:
Testing alone is not the answer, and runs the risk that people will get themselves tested instead of vaccinated.”
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has also said before that “tests aren’t helping at all in curbing the epidemic, only vaccination is.”
While experts and the government agree on the importance of vaccination, there seem to be disagreements otherwise. For example, Dr. Zoltán Szekanecz emphasized before that there are three main pillars of protection against the virus: vaccination, masks, and testing. He thinks there is no balance between these and just because certain people are vaccinated, it does not mean that wearing masks and getting tests should be stopped. Other experts list vaccination, precautionary measures (masks, keeping distance, hand-washing, etc), mass testing, and quarantining the infected as the means to curb the epidemic. Mass testing is of utmost importance since many people not experiencing symptoms are indeed infected and can infect others. Therefore, mass testing goes hand-in-hand with separating the infected from the uninfected.
PMO Head Gulyás is now also saying that “in Hungary, too, many companies offer free testing,” when it was mentioned that there are many countries that provide free testing. As it turned out, Gulyás does not know what happened to the 900 million forints of EU funding Hungary received for free testing from the European Union. He added that “it’s nice if the European Union did this, and 900 million is not a small amount of money, but it’s not too much for nationwide testing.”
Meanwhile, it seems some other countries believe in the importance of testing. For example, the US National Institute of Health (NIH) writes
the following about testing on their website:
“A positive test early in the course of the illness enables individuals to isolate themselves – reducing the chances that they will infect others and allowing them to seek treatment earlier, likely reducing disease severity and the risk of long-term disability, or death.”
Hungary is currently 88th best on the list of most tests carried out, in terms of the number of tests in proportion to the population (978,704 tests/1 million residents being performed since the start of the pandemic), and 4th worst when it comes to deaths/population (with 4,174 people having fallen victim to the coronavirus per 1 million residents). (Data based on the Covid-19 data of the website Worldometers.)
If we take a look at other countries which are similar in size and in population to Hungary, we can see some differences. It is important to note that the number of deaths which was mentioned in Hungary above, and below in other countries are all mean deaths/1 million, i. e. in proportion to the population. (The total number of deaths per country can be also viewed on Worldometers.)
For example, Czechia is 8th worst when it comes to the death ratio, with 3,427 deceased per 1 million residents and 15th best with 4,463,290 tests/1 million residents having been performed. An even more similar country is Portugal, where there were 27,780,292 tests (2,736,669 per 1 million residents), which makes the country the 32nd “most tested” one. Portugal is the 41st worst when it comes to deaths with 1,892 deaths. Denmark is the number one most tested country with 19,241,137 tests per 1 million people having been carried out, and it is the 113th on the list of most deaths with 593.
Since with Worldometers it is easy to compare countries of different sizes regarding pandemic data, it is also obvious that only three of the top 20 countries with the most tests per population are seriously affected by the pandemic and are also in the worst 20 regarding deaths per population: UK, Czechia, and Gibraltar. In the case of the latter, the very small number in terms of population has a distorting effect on the data, so in reality, it is rather only two countries.
So it seems that testing helps to protect citizens from spreading the virus and prevents many deaths.
Not long ago, the Hungarian government was under fire because they destroyed some HUF 5 billion (EUR 14.7 million) worth of PCR tests due to their expiration.
Back then, the Democratic Coalition (DK) demanded the government at least make PCR tests that are nearing expiration available for free. “It is a disgrace to the world that we have spent 5 billion forints on COVID tests, let them expire and destroy them, while people are spending nearly 20,000 forints per test. While in Western European countries you don’t have to pay once for testing, in Hungary people pay three times for tests,” they wrote.
Featured image via János Mészáros/MTI