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The government has said it is forced to take further steps to contain the spread of the coronavirus and is encouraging the public to be vigilant , to observe new rules “because the peak of the epidemic is ahead of us” and has stated a lack of cooperation could result in a fine of 5,000 – 30,000 PLN. 

New measures are being implemented on an hour-to-hour basis. Shortly before midnight on Tuesday, the Council of Ministers released an act which states the new prohibitions. At midnight, the amended bill on viral diseases came into power and a set of new penalties was introduced.

A criminal law specialist at the Jagielloński University in Kraków, Mikołaj Małecki, PhD, has condemned the lawmakers’ move.

“It is a scandal that an act resulting in such stringent constraints on human rights and freedoms was published just an hour before it came into power,” he said.

Małecki pointed out those who may have been asleep when the act was published were still expected to abide by the law the following morning.

“It is not a fashion of law-making that’s suitable for a democratic country,” he added. “Especially if we’re not under the state of emergency, as the government claims.”

New measures are, according to the type, to be enforced by a public health inspector, by State Trade Inspectorate officials or by voivodes.

Vendors face a fine from 5,000 to 5 million PLN for selling at a price or imposing a price margin that exceeds government-set limits. 

People who breach the formal quarantine, as well as patients being treated for Covid-19 who leave the hospital, can expect a fine of up to 30,000 PLN

Health professionals could receive a penalty notice of between 5,000 to 30,000 PLN if they fail to comply with a decision that moves them to the front line of tackling the epidemic.

Many other measures may apply to other members of the public. They are to be imposed by local public health inspectors and are based on police findings. 

Interior Secretary Mariusz Kaminski said on Wednesday the procedure on the flow of information was already in place and penalty notices will be fast-tracked. “We’ll be very effective with facing individuals with the consequences of their irresponsible actions,” Kaminski said. 

A penalty can be issued for breaching orders, prohibitions and constraints related to the outbreak. Most of these measures are effective until April 11 and can be extended. An individual can receive a notice of between 5,000 to 30,000 PLN for failing to comply with “constraints of movement.” This means leaving one’s residence except for the following four purposes: going to work (including voluntary work), reasons related to tackling the outbreak, to take part in a religious activity and to “fulfill needs related to everyday life.” The latter includes medical appointments and walking the dog. 

The same measures will be used to enforce new rules on commuting. One example of the new rules: a social distance of two meters should be maintained, which does not apply to parents with children aged 13 or younger and those supporting people with disabilities. People under the age of 18 cannot leave the house unsupervised by an adult. 

“It is not only age-related discrimination but also a form of unequal treatment by the law,” Mikołaj Małecki said. “A 17-year-old, and in some cases also a 15-year-old can face trial but cannot leave the house”.

Małecki further analysed the new penalties in a post to his blog. “It is possible for a 17-year-old committing theft to be not only punished for it but also to receive a penalty notice for leaving the house to steal,” he said. “It’s ridiculous.”

Małecki believes an adult guardian could face a penalty for a violation of the measure by a minor. Although a minor under the age of 17 cannot receive a penalty, an adult guardian can be issued a penalty against both parties. 

Other strict measures are used to enforce a prohibition on gatherings. Parties, meetings and gatherings are forbidden. Meetings with relatives and religious services are exceptions. Organising spectacles and other gatherings is forbidden and is enforced by a penalty of between 10,000 to 30,000 PLN. 

“It is an extreme restriction, especially when we realize that officials might judge freely whether to qualify certain situations as meetings or gatherings as there is a blurry line between those two,” Małecki said.

Mural na Tamce juz gotowyMural na Tamce juz gotowy Fot. Sławomir Kamiński / Agencja Gazeta

He underlines it is certain no one can be fined for an “accidental meeting” while queuing or waiting at a bus stop. “Given that their meeting was accidental, and neighbours or friends chat while waiting, it is OK. But it’s important to keep a two-meter distance as breaching this rule makes us vulnerable to yet another fine”.

Many are trying to comprehend the government’s intention when regulating access to recreational space. The government has forbidden the use of public areas which are covered by vegetation, such as, parks, botanical gardens, promenades, zoos and even beaches. Violating the rule carries a possible fine of between 5,000 PLN, 10,000 PLN and up to 30,000 PLN. The correct figure is unclear and the law can be interpreted in various ways.

Małecki has called this rule “one of the most unclear.” In his opinion, the prohibition must meet three criteria in order to be effective: the area must be green, it must be covered with some vegetation and it must be an area of public use.

“There must be some grass for it to be a green area,” he said. “There must be some form of vegetation present, trees, hedges. And it must be an area of public use. So, in my opinion, it is an area purposefully designed to be used in such a fashion. That would exclude a typical forest or a wild meadow.”

“These are severely repressive measures,” Małecki continued. “Meeting a group of people in public without a valid purpose results in a penalty of not [less than] than 10,000 PLN. But if we add the fines from failure to observe the rules of commuting and from entering the prohibited areas, one walk that was poorly thought-through might cost us 90,000 PLN!”

Fines can be appealed and if the appeal is rejected, a fine can be contested in an administrative court. Fines are also not effective immediately. Those penalised have seven days to pay the fine. The countdown begins when the decision is served. The government has already included the fines as a source of revenue and unpaid fines are to be executed.

Lawyers have often expressed concern over the new enforcement measures and the way they were introduced. The opinion from the Institute for Criminal Law in Krakow reads, “That these new, repressive provisions are described as fines does not affect the fact that in the light of the constitution it is a form of punishment and the constitution allows only courts to decide on responsibility resulting in repression."

The institute’s lawyers have stated that because the courts have significantly limited their operation, due to the pandemic, citizens are barred from their right to a judicial review of their penalty by an independent court, despite the fact that fines were executed immediately.

“It appears as [though] the government is tackling the outbreak in a way that violates the very standards of democracy,” Małecki said. “The constitution of the Republic of Poland allows such measures only under the state of emergency. The fact that the state of emergency has not been introduced, despite all the criteria being met, means that a political decision is endangering the safety of the public.”

Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about the coronovirus pandemic for you.

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