Coronavirus: legal survival kit for quarantine in Hungary

We can hear a lot about quarantine with regard to the new coronavirus outbreak (i.e. COVID-19). Whole municipalities have been already locked down by the authorities in China and Italy, but geographical quarantine is not the only epidemiological measure that can be taken by the State during an outbreak. In the present document we will review one by one how the State can limit your everyday life in case of a serious epidemiological situation.

This article wouldn't have been translated without the help of the Hungarian Freelance Translators and Interpreters Association (SZOFT). / A fordítást a Szabadúszó Fordítók, Tolmácsok Egyesülete készítette. Köszönjük!

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.

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.

    FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

    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.

    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. 

    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.

    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.

    Who can be placed in quarantine?

    Anyone who shows the symptoms of coronavirus or has been in contact with infected persons can be ordered to undergo epidemiological measures. Please refer to detailed rules above.

    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.  

    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 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.  

    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.

    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. 

    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.

    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.

    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.  

    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.  

    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.

    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.  

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