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Coronavirus: Orban defends mass evacuation of hospital beds

Budapest, Hungary – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban defended on Friday his decision to free up and order the evacuation of thousands of hospital beds for coronavirus patients – a move which critics say will endanger the lives of people with other serious medical conditions.

“We are right in the middle of a large military-like operation, which is causing discomfort,” Orban said in his weekly public address on Friday. “Obviously, this was an uncomfortable decision, but we can’t solve it differently”, he added.

On April 7, Hungary’s minister in charge of health ordered hospitals to keep at least 60 percent of the country’s around 70,000 hospital beds free for patients infected with the novel coronavirus.

But Hungarian media reported that hospitals are struggling to relocate patients, some suffering from chronic illnesses, either to other medical institutions or to the homes of family or relatives. On Tuesday, the opposition party called on the government to ensure health care services for all patients in need, and not only for those infected by the novel coronavirus.

Two hospital directors in Hungary who failed to comply with the evacuation order were dismissed earlier this week, sparking controversy and protests by staff.

Experts have also argued that Hungary’s current rate of coronavirus infections does not justify the move. “It is not possible that 30,000 people will be sick at the same time,” Ferenc Falus, a former chief medical officer, told a press conference Thursday.

“There will be a catastrophe if non-virus patients needing round-the-clock care are unleashed on families,” he said, adding that the government should instead erect temporary hospitals for coronavirus patients.

Pro-government columnist Zsolt Bayer immediately dismissed accusations that the Hungarian government was violating basic democratic norms or abandoning people in need, pointing to the fact that Hungary was among the countries that are the least threatened by the epidemic.

Hungary, which has a population of almost 10 million, has recorded more than 1,800 coronavirus infections and 172 deaths. Orban warned that the number of cases was expected to grow significantly as Hungary “enters a mass infection phase.”

“We hope for the best, but are preparing for the worst,” he said.

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