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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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