Hungary could have up to 200,000 virus cases under worst-case scenario: PM

FILE PHOTO: Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives for the first face-to-face EU summit since the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium July 17, 2020. John Thys/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Up to 200,000 Hungarians could become simultaneously infected with coronavirus under the government’s worst-case scenario, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told parliament on Monday, adding the healthcare system would be able to cope with such numbers.

After a spike in cases since the end of August, Hungary reported 876 new infections on Monday, bringing the total number of cases to 18,866 with 686 deaths. The number of active cases rose to 13,779 based on the latest tally.

Orban, who has said a second wave of the pandemic could peak in December or January, told lawmakers that under the worst-case scenario, 16,000 Hungarians would need hospital treatment, with 800 people requiring ventilators.

“To be on the safe side, I reckon with double those figures,” Orban said.

Orban’s government spent $1.15 billion on 16,000 ventilators this year after the premier said in April that Hungary would need up to 8,000 ventilators and intensive care hospital beds during the peak of the crisis.

Orban did not clarify on Monday the reason for the difference between the two estimates of ventilator need. Some doctors and opposition politicians have warned, however, that a shortage of certified nurses could be the main bottleneck in the healthcare system.

The Human Resources Ministry said last week that Hungary had 1,839 intensive care beds available, of which 812 were prepared to treat COVID-19 cases. It said another 9,487 hospital beds would be available to treat COVID-19 patients.

The ministry said that Hungary was prepared to tackle the second wave of the pandemic.

It was unclear how many of the newly-acquired ventilators have been installed so far and the government has not replied to Reuters questions regarding the availability of staff required to operate them.

Reporting by Gergely Szakacs and Anita Komuves; Editing by Toby Chopra