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- The curve has flattened. The number of new cases is under control. – Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki proudly announced during Tuesday’s press conference. Experts claim this is nonsense because we still don’t know what the actual curve even looks like. Poland isn’t doing enough testing.

Every epidemic follows the Gaussian “bell curve” and has its peak- prof. Robert Flisiak, president of the Polish Society of Epidemiology and Infectious Diseases explains.

Meanwhile, in Poland, for the past two weeks we’ve been seeing between 300 and 500 new infections every single day. This means the peak is cut off. We simply cannot register any more infections. He adds that a similar pattern can be seen in other countries like Italy. There too, the number of new infections varied between 4 and 6 thousand per day.

However, when it comes to the testing ratio, Italy is way ahead of us. While Poland was able to run 6 thousand tests per one million people, Italy, conducted 24 thousand of them. This can have massive repercussions. In Norway, where the epidemic started earlier than in Poland, last week the number of infections was at 6.8 thousand. Poland registered about a thousand less. A week later, Norway conducted 27 thousand tests per one million people and registered 400 new infections. Poland registered over 3 thousand new cases.

The Czech Republic also appears to have tamed the coronavirus epidemic thanks to wide-spread testing. There, the entire staff in hospitals and nursing homes undergoes regular testing regardless of whether they are showing any symptoms or have been in contact with an infected patient. The Polish Senate proposed introducing similar measures, but Health Minister Łukasz Szumowski voted against it. His ministry tries to convince us that Poland applies the exact same testing standards as other countries. The numbers clearly prove otherwise.  

- In principle, we are not against testing the medical staff for coronavirus – says Deputy Minister Janusz Cieszyński.

A lack of opposition to testing is not the same as making such testing reality. Tests should be readily available to all hospitals with isolation wards and facilities designated to take care of patients infected with COVID-19. That way, results would be ready after only a few hours and not a few days like in Śląsk. The health ministry has failed to take care of this. 

To make matters even worse, guidelines issued by the Chief Sanitary Inspectorate are so limited that some laboratories use only about 60-70 percent of their overall capacity. In this case, the ministry tried to put the blame on doctors. In reality, the ministry bears full responsibility for failing to efficiently organize functioning sample collection stations in addition to the situation with the laboratories.

The “New Normal”. Four stages of uncertainty

The lack of widely available tests has a direct effect on our lives.

Since we don’t even know the estimated number of infections, the government orders us to stay at home and doesn’t provide any prospective dates on eventually relaxing the restrictions. In the Czech Republic, the public already knows that stores with a size up to 200 square meters will open on April 27, and that larger stores, up to a thousand square meters, will open on May 1. Starting May 25, not only restaurants and bars with beer-gardens, but also museums, hair and beauty salons will open as well. Of course, this is provided the situation does not deteriorate.

A Polish hairdresser and a Polish restaurant owner know nothing whatsoever. So far, as a part of the process of reactivating the economy, restrictions in stores were somewhat relaxed but only in those locations which were already open. “Entering forests and parks is allowed, but only if your mental wellbeing depends on it”- the government stresses.

Still, several questions remain. Why do I have to sit a meter away from another passenger on a public bus, while in church the distance is four meters? Why do cinemas remain closed, although a similar distance could be kept there too? Hardware stores, and to a limited degree also hotels, libraries, museums and art galleries will open on the weekends, but only in the second stage of loosening the restrictions. Hair and beauty salons, to a limited extent some stores in shopping centres, and maybe the gastronomy sector will not be open before the third stage. Daycares and kindergartens may open as well. Cinemas and theatres will have to wait until the fourth stage. The problem is, there are no clear criteria nor any prospective dates.

We don’t know how low the infection rate has to drop for the government to decide on transitioning from one stage of the “new normal” to the next. “The ministry of health will evaluate the developments regarding undertaken security measures on a weekly basis” – the government assures us. Again, the problem is, we don’t even know what such evaluation will be based on.

Epidemics. Who are the experts the government consults? 

In Germany, the Robert Koch Institute issues daily reports on the infection rates sorted into demographic categories for each of the states. In Poland, even those who would want to create mathematical models to predict likely scenarios for the spread of epidemics can only access data on the number of new infections and mortality. Still, even this data cannot be simply and automatically imported but has to be transcribed manually instead.

Other countries also keep the names of experts advising the government on the restrictions fully transparent. In Great Britain, it is SAGE, i.e. the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. Boris Johnson and his cabinet mainly speak in addition to its representatives, together with Sir Patrick Vallance and Dr. Chris Whitte. Sweden, which decided on taking an atypical approach to fighting the epidemic and unlike other states did not seal itself off, is led by Anders Tegnell, the country’s chief epidemiologist. Dr. Anthony Fauci advises the US government, and the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina advises the German government. How is it in Poland? Unofficial sources say that each visit of the national consultant for infectious diseases to the Ministry of Health begins with a lecture on epidemiology by the ministry’s head officials...

We have asked for an official statement about the team of experts that advises the government, but also about which of the experts is behind specific restrictions, like the recently lifted ban on entering forests. The Health Ministry did not answer. Neither did the Prime Minister’s office. Can it be they have no experts? 

Mateusz Morawiecki: Poles don’t want the economy to reopen

Two weeks ago, we also asked the Ministry of Health for analyses regarding the effects of imposed restrictions on personal health, the postponement of oncological diagnostics, psychological effects of isolation among children, and the possible increase in cases of depression. We asked about the authors of these analyses and their conclusions. How much will the National Health Fund contributions differ from the initial projections?  How will this affect our healthcare in the future?

In response, the ministry sent us a list of legislation regarding the fight with the coronavirus epidemic. Not a single word about the analyses.

Finally, we asked about the source for minster Szumowski’s opinion on having the presidential election conducted via mail. “NIH, WHO and PZH, among others”- the ministry’s spokesperson answered. NIH is the National Institutes of Health in the US. PZH is the Polish National Institute of Hygiene. Can it be that together with the WHO they have analysed the epidemiological situation in Poland in terms of the upcoming presidential election?

The conclusion is clear. There’s no one on board who can fly this plane. There are no analyses. Even if there are any experts, no one is listening to them. The government is playing a guessing game.

While millions of people are afraid of losing their jobs and are uncertain about their future, the Prime Minister says: - The better part of the society doesn’t want the economy to open very fast. It’s because they are afraid the virus might return with even more force, and we don’t want that, obviously.

He made this statement on Monday. We asked again about the analyses and opinions the Prime Minister consulted. And again, no answer at all. 

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

They are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities. They work on the ground, reporting from hospitals and airports.

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