Hungary continues to have the highest daily coronavirus related death rate in the world. Aside from Gibraltar and San Marino, we have the second highest number of total deaths relative to our population. The curve does not appear to be waning, and Hungarians are beginning to ask themselves: why us?
While there are no definite answers, there are many logical, highly probably reasons that have brought Hungary’s death rate to climb so rapidly.
Healthcare Economist Lists Probable Causes for Death Rate
Eszter Sinkó, a healthcare economist, gave Azonnali five reasons which likely impacted the coronavirus related death rate in Hungary.
According to Sinkó, the virus was not held back enough during the second wave, as the measures the government enacted in November, healthcare professionals had been calling for much earlier.
The UK variant of the coronavirus also had a strong impact, the doctor says. The so-called British mutation was able to spread during less stringent border restrictions, such as the lack of quarantine restrictions on people travelling to the country for economic reasons.
Hungarians are also, on average less healthy. Sinkó notes that Hungary’s life expectancy is five years lower than the European Union average. “An unhealthy society is devastated by the virus sooner,” she says.
Another health-related problem is the healthcare system itself. Even before the virus, Sinkó says, “serious problems arose out of the fact that there were few skilled workers in the system.” There are not enough nurses in Hungary, and this has been made even clearer during the pandemic.
Sinkó also believes Hungary’s healthcare workers have waned in the strictness with which they follow necessary protocols. This, she says, is partially caused by a human resources deficiency, but also by the gradual disorganization of healthcare workers’ everyday operation.
Covid Tests and Vaccination Choices Also Possibility
Válasz Online added to the list of potential causes for deaths, saying that PCR tests, available medicine, and the vaccination program are also relevant factors to be considered.
A noticeable discrepancy in the statistics is that while Hungary is second in the list of deaths, it is not even among the top 30 countries in the number of people tested out of one million. This indicates that not enough PCR tests were conducted, resulting in the virus being present in large numbers of people unknowingly.
Válasz Online also mentioned that there is still no preventative medicine that would offer recovery from the virus’ symptoms. It would be helpful if everyone had access to medical instruments that make clear individuals’ pulse and blood-oxygen levels.
The virus also puts the greatest risk on elderly individuals, and for this reason most European countries completed the inoculation of people above the age of 80 first.
Hungary, on the other hand, while having inoculated a large part of people aged between 50-79, has only inoculated 53 percent of its population aged 80 and above. This could have likely contributed to the fact that among the last 200 deaths in Hungary, 142 were people above the age of 70.
Third Wave Could be Controlled with Appropriate Measures
László Márkus, a specialist at one of Budapest’s private clinics who formerly worked at a rural, public hospital for 26 years, said that in one sentence, “healthcare has practically fallen apart.”
Márkus told Azonnali that the amount of infected people reaching hospitals is so large, that neither personnel nor expertise can keep it under control. It is already an obstacle to find room for more critically afflicted patients, never mind measure their oxygen levels and give them the appropriate care and nursing.
The doctor also believes the virus mutations are also a dangerous factor, but that “with the appropriate measures, the third wave could be handled more effectively.” These measures include contact research, isolated closures, and the awareness over super spreaders, which Márkus says have all been neglected.
Márkus also mentioned the recent healthcare bill which further contributed to shortages in healthcare workers. He referred to personal experience of a doctor who was kicked out of her workplace for choosing not to sign the government contract.
Also impacted by the bill, the doctor mentioned an ambulance operator who is “sitting at home,” while hospitals are struggling to find people to help them move patients.
To control Hungary’s death rate, Márkus believes a complete lockdown is in order.
Government Restrictions: Too Little, Too Late
444.hu broke down Hungary’s response to the third wave so far, showing how we got to where we are.
The British mutation of the coronavirus was found in Hungary on January 11 and made public by Chief Medical Officer Cecília Müller on January 13. It spread quickly, and while Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced that Hungary had overcome the second wave on January 3rd, its presence lingered, and became the foothold the UK variant needed to spread.
While the mutation was growing stronger, the government was planning a reopening. Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office Gergely Gulyás announced on February 5 that there could be a reopening in March or April, and although the national consultation on reopening’s results were published on February 17, Cecíilia Müller declared the beginning of the third wave the very next day.
The number of newly infected grew by 42 percent within the third wave’s first week, but the government did not strengthen restrictions. Instead, it chose to continue discussions around the national consultation and Hungary’s vaccine procurement program.
Increased restrictions only began taking effect on March 8 with the closure of schools, services, and some stores. By this point 7,824 people were hospitalized and 806 were on ventilators, and the upward curve of cases did not falter. While the government made clear the presence of the third wave as it began, stronger control over the virus was not enacted until it had gone out of control.
Healthcare Manager: EU Cooperation Needed
Healthcare Manager Gabriella Lantos says that politicians put too much focus on the vaccine, and did not focus enough on building trust in the public. Trust, according to her, would have been essential in ensuring that people stay home, work from home, avoid travel, and close their shops.
Nobody wanted to mention that testing, lockdown measures, and vaccination need to go hand in hand, together, and while we move forward with vaccinations, we can allow ourselves to slowly lift restrictions.”
Lantos believes the European Union needs to agree on mutual, minimum measures, action plans, or sanctions. The cost of this is that member states give up a slice of their sovereignty, and could spark harsh political arguments.
Featured photo illustration by Zoltán Balogh/MTI