COVID-19 - Frequently asked questions

This article was translated with the help of the Hungarian Freelance Translators and Interpreters Association (SZOFT).

General questions

What to do if you have symptoms of COVID-19?

By all means, stay at home. Do not go to your general practitioner, call them instead, they will ask you questions about your symptoms and your recent contacts and whether or not you have recently been abroad.

If based on the above you are likely to have COVID-19 and

  1. the symptoms are mild and you do not belong to any risk group therefore you do not need hospital treatment and you can self-isolate at home you will be placed in home quarantine. You will only be tested if the health services have the capacity to do so;
  2. the symptoms are severe (e.g. breathing difficulty, pneumonia) and/or you belong to a group at higher risk (eldery or with an underlying condition) or you are not able to self-isolate (because you look after to an elderly or ill person), your GP will call a special ambulance to take you to hospital.

Who will be tested for COVID-19?

It is mandatory to test suspected and probable cases if they end up in hospital or they are already there. If they are at home, the testing will depend on availability so they are not done automatically. 

You are considered to be a suspected case if

  1. you have a fever of at least 38°C, OR you have a cough or difficulty breathing AND you have been abroad during the previous 14 days;
  2. You have a fever of at least 38°C, OR you have a cough or difficulty with breathing AND you have been in close contact with someone who probably or certainly has COVID-19 (you live in the same household or you spent more than 15 minutes at a distance of less than 2 metres from the person in an enclosed space);
  3. You have a fever of at least 38°C AND you present at least one of the symptoms of a respiratory disease (e.g. cough, breathing difficulty, pneumonia) AND you need hospital treatment;
  4. You have the symptoms of a respiratory disease and the doctor or the authorities consider you a suspected case.

You are considered to be a probable case if you fulfill the criteria of a suspected case AND

  • Your COVID-19 test results are not clear

OR

  • Your COVID-19 results come back positive.

Quarantine

What does quarantine mean?

What does quarantine mean?

Quarantine has no legal definition, which means this term cannot be found in legislation. In everyday usage, it can refer to two types of measures:

  • to separate a patient or a person suspected of infection; or
  • to lock down a municipality, a territory or a building, i.e. to establish the prohibition of leaving or entering the given area.

Hungarian epidemiological rules know both interpretations. Hungarian legislation considers quarantine within the frame of epidemiological measures.

A general characteristic of epidemiological measures is that they limit the individual’s freedom and patients’ rights. They can limit for instance the freedom of movement by ordering mandatory hospital residence. They can also limit the right of self-determination of the patient by prescribing mandatory resort to a therapy (e.g. taking medication, vaccination) without asking the patient whether they are willing to have it.

These limitations of right can be based always only on legislation, can last as long as necessarily needed, and must apply only insofar as strictly necessary. The right to information can be never limited, and the right to maintain relations also cannot be completely excluded. These rights will be presented in detail at the end of the document.

What are the epidemiological measures?

INDIVIDUAL MEASURES

First let’s see epidemiological measures that are related to a person suspected or known of having a contagious disease.

The following measures can apply to them:

  • screening test for epidemiological purposes;
  • epidemiological isolation;
  • epidemiological monitoring and confinement;
  • epidemiological inspection (not applied for coronavirus)

The above terms may seem quite similar in the everyday language – let’s see what they mean in a bit more detail.

Screening test for epidemiological purposes

It means the epidemiological testing of the entirety or groups of the population. These groups may entail to the population of a defined area, employees of a given workplace, persons arriving from abroad, or persons having previously been in contact with an already identified, contagious patient. These persons may be obliged to undergo tests.

The first signs of these measures can be already seen at the airports when everybody’s temperature is taken.

If someone opposes to the screening test, it can be officially ordered by the epidemiological authority, and the decision becomes enforceable immediately, regardless of us considering it unlawful or lodging an appeal.

Epidemiological separation

It means the confinement of the contagious patient to their home or a hospital. Isolation is mandatory for those who are confirmed to suffer from coronavirus. In this case, the separation takes place in assigned inpatient wards, and in the Central Hospital of South Pest, in the rooms assigned for this purpose.

Epidemiological monitoring

Those who have been in contact with a person infected by coronavirus, and are therefore probably in the incubation period, must be under epidemiological monitoring. The same applies for those who have been in close contact with coronavirus infected patients (with their respiratory exudate). The monitoring lasts 14 days. The method of epidemiological monitoring (isolation at home or epidemiological confinement if needed) is defined with regard to the individual circumstances of the contact person by which the further transmission of the disease can be prevented. If clinical symptoms appear during this period, further examination of the patient is required.

A more severe form of epidemiological monitoring is epidemiological confinement that is executed in an area explicitly delimited for this purpose.

Epidemiological inspection

This measure can be taken into consideration only in case of salmonella typhi disease, it remains irrelevant for the new coronavirus.

An epidemiological inspection can take place if a pathogen can be found in someone, but they do not suffer from the symptoms of the disease; in this case they are considered asymptomatic carriers. They can infect others therefore epidemiological measures can apply to them too.

Asymptomatic carriers can be limited in exercising their profession, their right to maintain relations, and their freedom of movement.

It means that an asymptomatic carrier

  • is obliged to periodically undergo medical examination;
  • is obliged to report if they leave their home for a period longer than two weeks;
  • cannot enter childcare (nursery, kindergarten) and educational institutions;
  • cannot be employed in child protection, educational and social institutions, by health service providers, furthermore in any food production, processing, packaging, selling, and drinking-water supplying positions.

GROUP MEASURES

Certain epidemiological measures apply not to a single person but to larger group of patients. Here we can find rules that apply to territorial quarantine. In case of a potential risk of an epidemic or during an ongoing epidemic, the following can be limited or prohibited:

  • the operation of all institutions, furthermore events and activities that can foster epidemic spread;
  • the personal, livestock or goods movement between certain areas;
  • for the population of a certain area to get in contact with the population of other areas;
  • to visit hospitals;
  • to leave certain areas;
  • to sell and consume certain foods;
  • to consume drinking-water.

In case of the risk of an epidemic or an epidemic, the operation of nurseries, kindergartens, schools can be suspended; other community institutions also may close, and events might be forbidden to take place. The limitation of operation and closure of hospital wards also can be ordered. Besides, public transportation also can be limited or forbidden.

Who can order epidemiological measures?

Basically, the Chief Medical Officer. Local measures can be taken by capital or county government offices, and by district offices. Individual measures can be taken even by a doctor.

What does an area under quarantine mean? What can the local population be limited in?

Quarantine is not a legal category, but it is possible to lock down certain areas. It means that no one can leave and enter the closed area. This area can cover a number of buildings, but even a whole municipality or county. You can read above what the population can be limited in.

Who will be placed in hospital quarantine?

Patients who are being examined or are suspected

  • Are in a severe state and/or
  • Are part of a risk group (elderly  or with an existing condition)
  • Cannot self-isolate at home.

Patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 in a hospital will be placed in hospital quarantine.

Those who cannot self-isolate at home but do not need to be treated in hospital can be placed in other facilities appointed by the authorities.

Who must be placed in home quarantine?

  • People who have tested positive for COVID-19 but do not need hospital treatment.
  • People who have symptoms and are suspected cases or under examination, but their symptoms are mild and their overall health conditions do not justify a need to be treated in a hospital—i.e. they can self-isolate at home.
  • People who do not yet have symptoms but have been in close contact with someone who probably or certainly has COVID-19 (they live in the same household or you spent more than 15 minutes at a distance of  less than 2 metres from the person in an enclosed space).
  • People who have returned from specific countries need to stay in home quarantine for 14 days even if they do not have symptoms and they tested negative. These countries at the moment are: Italy, China, South-Korea, Israel and Iran. 

It is very important that authorities have the right to check whether you comply with the rules of home quarantine and in case you do not, there will be sanctions.

What services must be offered to persons in quarantine?

It largely depends on the form of the quarantine. In case of epidemiological isolation in hospitals, the hospital must provide food-provisions, and “health-related textiles”, some form of nightgown.

How long can the quarantine last?

Isolation lasts until the patient's recovery. In case of the new coronavirus illness, the epidemiological monitoring of contact persons (persons in close contact with the patient) lasts 14 days following the last contact. Locking down of an area or building is kept up as long as the epidemiological situation justifies it.  

Do I have the right to receive visits if I am placed in quarantine?

You won’t be allowed to have visitors, most probably, since the point of a quarantine is to separate contagious patients. There are many ways to conduct epidemiological isolation. Sometimes you are placed in a single bed ward where it is prohibited even to open the door, and there are instances, where a whole city is quarantined, but you are allowed to move around relatively freely within the quarantine borders. As you see it is difficult to answer the question in general. However, the right to maintain relations in quarantine will somehow be restricted in any case. However, virtual communications cannot be restricted. You may call or get in touch with anyone on the phone or on the internet, and nobody can tell you what to say because freedom of speech and opinion cannot be restricted on epidemiological grounds.  

If I am quarantined at home, how will I shop?

Quarantine is always ordered in an individual decision. In this case they consider not only the state of the individual but also whether their sustenance is provided. Those who cannot sustain themselves or it cannot be provided for them will not be ordered into home quarantine, in this case epidemiological lockdown can be applied, which means observation under special requirements and isolation in a specifically appointed location.

What happens to my pet if I am quarantined?

This is a question that we have not find an answer based on existing regulation. Law enforcement regulations discuss a similar situation: if someone is arrested, then the care of their house plants, livestock and pets must be arranged with the notary of the local municipality.

Can they confiscate my phone?

If there is no special epidemiological reason (for example to test whether the virus can be found on the phone), then they are not allowed to confiscate your phone or any other belongings.

Travel

What about Hungarians returning from abroad?

  • Hungarian citizens can return without any problems from most countries, and they will not even get tested. 
  • Those who return from abroad and have a fever of at least 38°C or have a cough, or breathing difficulty will get tested and they will be isolated at home or in hospital.
  • Those who return from Italy, China, South-Korea, Israel or Iran will have to undergo a mandatory medical check. If they are suspected to have COVID-19, they will be quarantined (in hospital, another medical facility or the person’s own home). If they are unlikely to be infected, they have to self-isolate at home for 14 days. In the exceptional case if it is highly unlikely that the person is infected the above rules can be waived.  

What happens to non-Hungarians returning to Hungary?

At the moment, only Hungarian citizens can enter Hungary. Non-Hungarian citizens—other than those bringing in supplies—can enter the country in accordance with the specific decrees on the emergency state emitted by the government, and in some cases there is room for exceptions. 

Citizens of the EEA with a permanent residence card belong to the same category as Hungarian citizens, therefore they can enter the country. Here you can find the list of EEA countries and here you can learn more on who can apply for a permanent residence card in Hungary. It is important to note that the permanent residence card in itself is not enough to enter Hungary. Only the citizens of an EEA country with a permanent residence card can enter. This can be problematic because not only citizens of EEA countries can be granted this card in Hungary; it can therefore happen that a citizen of an EEA country is allowed to enter Hungary and their family from outside the EEA is not, even though all of them have a permanent residence card.

The Head of the Hungarian Police Department has been given the right of special consideration to waive the ban from entering the country, if

  • a person has already been medically examined and
  • there is no suspicion of a COVID-19 infection and
  • the Public Health Office has registered them.

We know about some cases where this ban has been lifted, so it might be worth applying for, however the decision making process based on the known cases is not clear. 

It is very likely that family members of Hungarian citizens or people that live in Hungary but are not citizens of an EEA country or they are but do not have a permanent residence card can still enter the country this way. 

Penal sanctions

Am I obliged to submit myself to epidemiological measures?

Yes. Epidemiological measures are mandatory; therefore our approval is not needed, they can be executed even by limiting the freedom of the individual. The decision is immediately enforceable, if someone opposes, it can be enforced. 

Can I refuse to be quarantined?

No. Everyone is obliged to respect epidemiological measures. If you oppose, measures can be executed even by force!

Do I have to give consent to all medical interventions, or am I allowed to refuse some?

You are only obliged to undergo interventions related to the epidemic. You can be required to undergo certain tests, give samples for virus breeding, or take medicine; but all these actions can only be undertaken in order to diagnose, treat and stop the epidemic. You are not obligated to subject to any other medical interventions.

Parents and families

If a minor is quarantined, can a parent go with them?

We must differentiate certain types of quarantine. We rote about these in our previous article.

In the case of home quarantine obviously you can still keep in touch with your family members. Those isolated this way will receive guidance in what precautions they have to make, but they won’t be physically separated from their family.

In the case of coronavirus, suspected and verified cases must be hospitalized separately. If it comes to this, then it is possible that children would be separated from their parents. We are going to explain why that can be done.

Is the consent of the parent required to place a child in quarantine?

Minors can be placed in quarantine, since being quarantined is not conducted on a voluntary basis with consent. However, minors and parents have to be informed in a comprehensible manner.

Do parents need to receive information on the health status of the child? How can parents ask for information?

Yes, parents need to receive detailed and sufficient information. The best solution is for the hospital to provide parents with contact details where they can receive information, but they need to be provided also face to face with appropriate information, of course. Parents need to be provided information not only on the health status, but also on the estimated isolation period, and on how they can get in touch with their child. It is also important for parents to know whether they are allowed to bring personal items, games, books, clothes, toiletries or food for their child.  

Can I visit my quarantined child?

This greatly depends on the separation type, but basically no. If the whole building is not closed, then it is allowed to go inside the hospital, but patients with corona virus are hermetically separated from the outside world, therefore parents are not allowed to meet their children.  

What will happen to us if there is no one to take care of my child / family member? What will happen to them?

If parents are put in quarantine, they can make the most effort to make sure that their children are staying with relatives, friends or acquaintances. The official procedure for this is an application for foster care: fostering needs to be applied for at child services, that can agree to the request of the parents for a referred family to temporarily foster and raise the children because of their health status.

If fostering is no option because there is, for example no relative or acquaintance to take care of the children, child services will place the children provisionally.

If the adult put in quarantine is taking care of an elderly or sick relative, who would otherwise be left without care, services of the municipality will be made available. Mass catering services, home assistance and day care services need to be available in all settlements. These services can be requested from the local government. If someone cannot be taken care of at home, then they need to be put in a social institution offering nursing services, such as retirement homes or in-patient care.  

On what grounds can a child be separated from their parents? This can be great trauma for a young child!

This really is a complicated situation. Different, contradictory, but still valid and reasonable facts battle each other in this case. Of course a child must be with their parents in general, since they can make decisions about them and take care of them most.

However, a threatening infectious disease can overwrite even this. Child and parent might be separated from each other for the benefit of the child, the parent, or society on the whole. It is in all of our interest to stop the spread of the disease, therefore it can happen that the child and parent must be placed separately.

It is important to add that the physical contact of parent and child (that they live in the same household, hug and kiss each other) probably leads to the infection spreading fast in the family, therefore it is possible that this is going to ensure that children won’t be separated from their parents.

Can I join my child in quarantine at my own risk?

If the child is quarantined in a hospital, this is not possible. In a situation involving a serious infectious disease public health sadly come even before basic rights, such as the right of access. Even though one of the fundamental patient rights is that the parent can stay with their child 24 hours a day (which is a general rule), which also the HCLU is fighting for, the outbreak of a disease is a special situation.

In addition, it is also already clear that the greatest challenge of the epidemic is that patients are going to overburden the healthcare system. Therefore if someone is not ill they cannot decide to be quarantined in a hospital simply because they would take away space from those who would actually need care.

Who is going to take care of my child?

In a hospital, care must be provided. This not only means that the child should get food and drink, but that they have to be provided with help in basic functions - such as bathing, going to the toilet, and if necessary their diaper must be changed and they must get clean clothes. Children will not be left without care.

We are coming back with my family from abroad. If we are quarantined, can we expect to stay together?

This is determined by a number of circumstances, there is no general answer. The question is whether it is precautionary monitoring, or if the symptoms have already appeared and whether there is a need for serious medical attention.

If it comes to being quarantined in a hospital, the primary aspect is the efficiency of the healthcare institution. Therefore it might happen that the child is placed with other children and the mother is in a different department of the hospital, and the father might be sent home.

I breastfeed my child. Can we still be separated?

As a matter of fact, yes. The epidemiological aspects takes priority over the right to access.

International recommendations are so far uncertain whether an infected mother should continue breastfeeding. It is definite that breastfeeding can provide protection to a baby and that the best nourishment for a baby is breast milk. However it is still to be decided whether breastfeeding can be continued. If yes, it is the responsibility of the hospital to provide an opportunity to get the breastmilk to the baby.

Employees and employers

Does my time in quarantine count as sick leave?

No. If you are “officially isolated on grounds of public health”, that is placed in quarantine, you legally qualify as incapable of work. Persons who qualify as incapable of work on these grounds won’t be on sick leave but receive sick pay from day one. According to law lost income not compensated (and other possible expenses) based on affiliation to social insurance are reimbursed by the state.  

Is my employer obliged to accept that I’m unable to go to work?

Yes. If you are “officially separated on grounds of public health”, that is placed in quarantine, you legally qualify as incapable of work. During incapability of work the employee is exempted from availability and work obligations. The employer cannot prevail over movement restrictions introduced with the quarantine. However, that doesn’t mean you are prohibited to work. The employer is obliged to introduce remote work and may require or you can agree to working from home.

Communications and privacy

Can I talk about my status? Can I post pictures on social media while quarantined?

Absolutely. The quarantine cannot be extended to restriction of freedom of speech and opinion under any circumstances. This means, you are allowed to report on the quarantine, how it is to be quarantined or whether or not you believe it is a good idea.

However, pay attention to the following: information on health status qualifies as sensitive personal data. You can only show other persons on pictures, videos or voice recordings if you have their consent. This is particularly so if the health status of the person is revealed by the information shared. 

What kind of information do I have to receive about the quarantine?

You have to be provided with complete health information even in quarantine. This means you have to be given the opportunity to ask questions and to receive comprehensible answers. The restriction of some of your rights in the quarantine, or the fact that you are obliged to subject to certain interventions doesn’t mean that you don’t need to be informed about them.

Can they disclose my name or any personal data to the media if I’m infected or if I’m quarantined?

No. The infected status qualifies as sensitive personal data and cannot be disclosed under any circumstances without your explicit consent.  

How does the state need to communicate about the quarantine?

Real time, transparent, comprehensible communication is required. It is important that not only the fact of the quarantine, but also the specific conditions are being communicated. The best way to spread information is to dedicate a website for this matter with easily comprehensible, regularly updated information. Regularly updated information on the corona virus situation is available here. It is commendable that the National Public Health Center has introduced two toll free numbers, which are available 24/7: +36-80/277-455 and +36-80/277-456.

Share