Sanitary inspectorate (Sanepid) has been underinvested in Poland for years. Sanitary inspectors say they are running on fumes.
- We are not as horribly deprived of provisions as before, when there wasn’t even toilet paper in our offices, but we receive almost no personal protective equipment, and we have to work together here every day. We not only detect subsequent cases of infection, send people to quarantine, look for those who had contact with infected patients, but on top of that we have to fill out extensive paperwork related to all of those activities. We do not have enough hands on deck - says a Sanepid employee.
Despite that, the list of their responsibilities was expanded this week. Sanepid has taken over some of the police duties and now its officers are responsible for imposing penalties for non-compliance with the social distancing rules such as the ban on assemblies or entering a park or forest.
It's a lot of work. According to the Police Headquarters, during the first two weeks of the epidemic, police officers imposed nearly 12,000 penalties for breaking the restriction of movement or assemblies. Three thousand applications for punishment were sent to court.
The fine imposed by the police is only PLN 500. However, the fine for breaking the quarantine is between 5,000 and 30,000 PLN, and for entering the park or forest the fine starts from 10,000 PLN.
Why is the lowest penalty for entering the forest twice as high as for breaching the quarantine? - It wasn’t our idea. We did not support the ban on entering the forest - an official of the Ministry of Health reveals in an unofficial conversation.
- This prohibition is absurd, and we are about to be put in charge of chasing people down for going to forests - the employee of the poviat sanitary station in the north of Poland says. But that's the official order. "In cooperation with the police, the procedure and enforcement of these rules was established by imposing administrative penalties," we read in an email that GIS sent to Sanepid across the country on April 2.
Penalty for entering the forest. The minimum is 10 thousand zł
The procedure is as follows: when police officers catch someone in the woods, they draw up a memorandum stating that he or she violated the law. This note is forwarded to the poviat sanitary inspector by the poviat police commander. Based on the note, the inspector is to initiate administrative proceedings "to impose a penalty". The decision and notification of the initiation of the proceedings is then forwarded to the police, which delivers it to the accused. The final stage of the GIS procedure is described as follows: "a police officer draws up a document confirming the effectiveness of delivering a decision" to the sanitary inspectorate responsible for the territory where the accused lives and passes it to the sanitary officer. "When imposing penalties, please adjust its amount to the seriousness of the offense," writes the Chief Sanitary Inspector at the end and asks for "constructive cooperation with the police."
- One absurd is chasing another. The ban on entering forests is stupid. Secondly, how should we adjust the penalty, if it starts at PLN 10,000? - a sanepid employee asks.
Despite repeated requests, GIS spokesman Jan Bondar did not respond to our question about how many administrative proceedings have been initiated so far or how many penalties have been imposed for entering a park or forest. Meanwhile, poviat stations are required to report it to him every day until 9 am. The voivodeship stations did not answer us either.
- We have not initiated any proceedings yet, but we are very pressured to do so - says the inspector from a small city in southern Poland.
He hesitates, however. There is no doubt about punishment for violation of quarantine, but the ban on entering the forest is considered legally questionable.
Road way to work through the park
A similar opinion is expressed by prof. Ewa Łętowska, former Ombudsman:
-These doubts are correct. First, the legal basis for issuing such restrictions is questionable. Restrictions on movement can be made in connection with the announcement of a state of natural disaster, but no such state was announced. And the use of disease regulations for this purpose has been expanding: you can restrict the way you move and we have banned movement. And even if these bans were introduced in accordance with the law, they are so imprecise that they give too much freedom in application. If the shortest way from work to home goes through the park, is it allowed to go through this park or not? This means that decisions about breaking these bans and imposing penalties on citizens will be discretionary, and even arbitrary. Well, but it is threatening 30,000 PLN fine. What about the fact that one day someone will be able to win their return in court, since they take them now, immediately and someone may not have sufficient income in the meantime because of it.
Draconian sanction, blanket provision plus lengthy appeal and court procedures - this is a recipe for evident management through intimidation and manipulation of people.
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