Coronavirus, incompetence and suspected fraud in authoritarian Hungary

Péter Szijjártó, Hungary’s young minister of foreign affairs & trade is responsible for purchasing protective gear for his country’s fight against the coronavirus epidemic.  Szijjártó organized an air bridge to China and over 100 WizzAir flights brought back gear for the “battle,” as he calls it.

According to government sources Hungary has so far received over 131 million masks, 1,928,695 protective gowns, 516,280 visors and 3,062 ventilators.  Szijjártó is satisfied.  He thanked to the ministry’s logistics team, the purchasing agents, the pilots and the ground crew for their “fantastic achievement”.

There is only one problem.  Not everybody is happy with the imported gear.

MagyarHang published an article that many of the 3,062 “ventilators” sold to the Hungary are actually not medical-grade ventilators at a cost of $30-40,000 a piece but personal CPAP machines.  Those are available online for $599 plus tax.  (Read more in Hungary Today here)

ResMed desktop personal CPAP unit – cost $599

The government immediately refuted the “vicious allegations” claiming that hospitals are using appropriate devices and following professional protocol.  The suggestion that corrupt Hungarian officials bought cheap and useless CPAP machines as expensive ventilators is heresy.

Later, Index portal reported that Hungary purchased a large number of ResMed Lumis 150 CPAP machines.  Some came with Chinese language screens!   Oh well. (Read Index article in Hungarian)

You would think that Hungarian politicians demanded an investigation.  They did.  Gábor Sebes, a local Fidesz apparatchik immediately attacked the whistleblower Magyar Hang, accusing the paper of spreading fake news.  Spreading fake news is a crime in Orbanistan; the paper could be shut down and the journalist might end up in jail.  Sebes explained that the FDA in the US also recommends CPAP machines.  True, but the FDA does not recommend the use of CPAP machines in lieu of ventilators. (Read the Sebes article here)

Hospital ventilator unit – total cost $30-40,000 per bed.

In addition, The American Society of Anesthesiologists issued guidance discouraging CPAP use in COVID-19 patients.  Non-invasive ventilation (e.g. CPAP or biPAP) may increase the risk of infectious transmission. (Read here)

Tamás Menczer, a junior minister and a loyal deputy of Szijjártó went on TV explaining that there were no mistakes during the acquisition process.  CPAP machines are necessary “in the first and third stages of the disease.” (!?)  Menczer warned opposition politicians and media “not to root against the government.” (Watch Mr. Menczer here)

There are serious questions related to the CPAP machines because they can be deadly.  They may actually spread (!) the coronavirus.  Now it is suspected that the machines have contributed to nursing home infections in the US. (Read more here about CPAP spreading the virus)

Did the use of CPAP machines contribute to coronavirus infections in Hungary’s hospitals?  We don’t know for sure.  But it seems that Hungarian officials paid top dollar for “protective gear” which in some cases does not protect; in fact it could spread the virus. Yet reporting about this scandal is a crime since government officials consider it fake news and that is currently punishable.

Isn’t this the perfect setup for a criminal operation?  And this is not happening in North Korea but in a member state of the European Union.

György Lázár

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