Information coming out of hospitals has been limited long before Covid started. It is a highly flammable issue.
The lack of transparency is the rule, not the exception in autocracies. The logic goes much like it was illustrated in the hit HBO series Chernobyl:
In other words: The people don’t need to know anything, they don’t deserve information. What are we? Their servants, or what?
The underfinancing of the Hungarian healthcare system is such a volatile issue, it has been blamed for Orbán’s local election fiasco in October 2019. The problem dates back decades, and the reluctance of consecutive governments to tackle it has been made worse by the immense corruption built into the system and the lobby of the actors who found it easier to enrich themselves in the corrupt and declining system than it would have been in a transparent and competitive market. As a matter of fact, “underfinancing” is to weak a word. A typical case of sanitizing a serious and shockingly real issue.
As a result, doctors and hospitals were banned from speaking to the press and a ban on photography in healthcare premises has been put into place way before covid. And ever since the pandemic started, permissions for the media to report from healthcare facilities or to take pictures has never been granted, their questions have never been answered during the daily “press briefings” of the covid information team. All that endless blabbing about how to sneeze and how to wash the children’s chew toys – but simple questions like “How many hospital beds are available for COVID-19 patients in Hungary?” or “How much time does it take for a fatality to appear in the statistics published by the Coronavirus Press Office/task force?” are never answered.
As Telex.hu, the new portal of the journalists of Hungary’s former leading news site wrote:
“…ever since our site launched on 2 October,
- We have sent 225 questions to the government’s coronavirus task force, and have not received a single answer. It’s not only that they are not reading our questions during the online press conference – we are not getting answers in any other way, shape, or form either, even though we specifically request in each of our letters that they answer in writing if, due to a lack of time we presume, they omit our questions from the press conference.
- We have requested photo permits from 12 healthcare institutions on 31 occasions so we could show how frontline workers live each day – we were never granted permission.
- We asked the Hungarian Paramedical Service 15 questions on six separate occasions, and we have asked for comments twice. We were refused once, but for the rest of our letters, we have not even received an answer.“
Another site, 444.hu started to publish a searchable version of the data that the official government information site publishes every day. They grew tired of the inconsistencies and being reduced to measuring charts with a ruler to see how many death that increase on the graph might represent. And since every new data disappears after a day, trends may be what the state wants them to be – even retroactively.