Prague, Czech Republic – The spread of coronavirus is rapidly expanding towards Central Europe. While the Czech Republic has confirmed its first three cases of coronavirus over the weekend, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, who have reported no cases of the disease so far, are getting ready, with officials stating that it is only a matter of time before the first diagnosis are made, and sticking to facts right is more important than ever.

The World Health Organization has declared the virus as a global public health emergency of international concern and governments in Central Europe are takings steps to mitigate the virus. Airports are screening visitors for symptoms of the infection, and travelers suspected of being infected are being quarantined. 

Hungary is also closing their borders to asylum seekers amid the coronavirus outbreak. On Sunday, the country’s chief security advisor, György Bakondi, said applications from asylum seekers were indefinitely suspended due to coronavirus, citing concerns about people coming in from Iran.

In fact, the political potential and consequences of the virus became quickly apparent. Russia has been accused of a coordinated attempt to spread misinformation and panic about the virus. The fake narrative that the virus represented US interests was circulated online. Hungarian authorities arrested a couple who were responsible for spreading fake news about the virus and deaths in Hungary. 

Looking closer to the V4 countries, the case of Hungary comes to mind. The government has coopted the typical government communication tools for campaign and political messages in the last ten years. Fidesz has been able to secure their two-thirds majorities through using the state media, billboards, and social media to spread lies about George Soros, migrants and other fears that get out the vote for a xenophobic and conservative party.

As the coronavirus continues to spread in Europe, so do fake news. Slovak PM Pellegrini, who was taken ill last week, had to take to Twitter to deny claims he had been infected with the respiratory virus.

The Hungarian government is poorly positioned itself for a true crisis – where trust in the government and the information it provides is vital. People are desperate for information regarding what steps they should take and how the epidemic is spreading. By destroying the trust people had in government communications by using it for campaigns, Fidesz is left with a population lacks proper sources of information and trust. This will greatly slow the measures Hungarians take against the virus and might even lead to additional deaths or infections. facts coronavirus

In an epidemic scenario, these channels of communication are vital. Should people be wearing facemasks? Does drinking tea help? The Hungarian people will now suffer the consequences of the mistakes of Fidesz. Of course, it will be the weak and the old, who are exposed and suffer from the virus, and the Fidesz oligarchs will be safe from any real consequences. 

Yet, panic and misinformation can cause as much damage as the virus itself. It is important that citizens remain well informed.

The last two days of events at the Venice Carnival were canceled. Credit: REUTERS/Manuel Silvestri

What is the coronavirus?

The current epidemic is spread by the “2019 novel coronavirus” or “2019-nCoV”. Coronaviruses are a family of various common in different species of animals, such as cattle, cats and bats. Certain strands can crossover to humans and can cause pneumonia. No known antiviral drugs will not work against it, and antibiotics are useless as it is a virus. 

Recovery depends on how healthy the individual and their immune system. Most of those who have died were already in poor health, but unlike the Ebola, which had close to a 90 per cent death rate, the coronavirus has a much lower death rate. Of the 80,000 infected people, 3,000 have died and 27,000 have fully recovered. facts coronavirus

How does it spread?

The virus spreads mainly person to person, similar to influenza, from being in close contact with one another – about 1.5 meters. Spending extended time, in the range of hours, in the same space with infected people also increases the chances of contracting it.  It spreads through respiratory droplets when the infected person coughs or sneezes. 

What are the symptoms?

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breathing difficulties

Do face-masks help?

Yes, to a certain extent. Facemasks block splashes and large-particle droplets but do not filter all the small particles in the air from coughs or sneezes due to the imperfect fit around the wearers face. Masks which provide a perfect fit, such as the N95 respirator, effectively filter the virus out. However, these are bulk, expensive and not recommended as a preventative measure.  

It is important to remember that many of those who contract coronavirus will experience only mild symptoms and most people are expected to make a full recovery.

What can you do to prevent it?

There is no vaccine for the virus yet, and only general preventative measures are recommended by the Center for Diseases Control. 

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available. 
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Is there any treatment for it?

There is no specific antiviral treatment that has been recommended against the virus. The key to a quick recovery is staying hydrated, resting, and relieving the symptoms. facts coronavirus

It is important to remember that many of those who contract coronavirus will experience only mild symptoms and most people are expected to make a full recovery. However, it can pose a particular risk for elderly people and those with pre-existing problems such as diabetes or cancer, or weak immune systems.

By Viktor Mák 

Born in Jászberény in the Hungarian countryside, Viktor studied and worked in the United States. He recently returned to Hungary and finished a degree in Public Administration at the Central European University. During the day, he works in political communication. In his free time busies himself with activism fighting for a quality, well funded and accessible education system in Hungary. Check out his latest articles right here!

Headed by Kafkadesk's chief-editor Jules Eisenchteter, our Prague office gathers over half a dozen reporters, editors and contributors, as well as our social media team. It covers everything Czech and Slovak-related, and oversees operations from our other Central European desks in Krakow and Budapest.