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Poland has just experienced its worst week of the coronavirus pandemic since last fall. On Wednesday, the Ministry of Health reported 25,052 new COVID-19 infections and new 453 deaths. On Thursday, the number of new cases has already risen to 27,278- Poland’s second-highest rate of total daily infections, coming close to the all-time peak recorded on November 7, 2020.

As the third coronavirus wave accelerates, the country is bracing for impact. Starting this Saturday, regional pandemic restrictions will be extended nationwide.

Announcing the government’s decision during a press conference on Thursday, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski began by pointing out the accelerating dynamics of COVID-19 transmission. - It is definitely higher than what we’ve observed in the previous week- he said. It's not just the daily number of cases (comparing the week-to-week increase, last week it reached 20-30 %, this week - over 40 %). The ministry is also looking at hospital bed occupancy. It started with an increase of 500 coronavirus patients per week. Then it was already 1000. Now, compared to last week, we already have 3.000 more hospitalized patients. The number of test referrals issued by family doctors is also going up. In the last seven days, we have registered over 200.000 of them - and only a week ago, we had 150.000- Mr. Niedzielski explained.

The Minister also mentioned that the main reason for the accelerating epidemic is the British mutation of the coronavirus. According to the Health Ministry’s own data, this particular mutation is responsible for 52% of all infections. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 Diagnostics Laboratory of the Institute of Human Genetics of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Poznań reported yesterday that even 90% of the samples they tested were of the British kind.

Poland goes back into national quarantine

The new nationwide lockdown is scheduled to last from March 20 to April 9. During that time children from grades 1-3 all over the country will return to remote learning (up until now, even in the regions that already went into lockdown, the learning model was hybrid). Moreover, starting Saturday, shopping malls will be closed (except for grocery stores, drugstores, pharmacies, and services such as beauty salons). Museums, art galleries, cinemas, theaters, hotels, swimming pools, tennis courts, solariums, and saunas will also be closed.

Individual stores outside shopping malls will remain open. Despite the approaching Easter holidays and related celebrations, churches are to stay open as well.

Further restrictions possible

The Health Minister warned that if the newly introduced restrictions fail to slow down the third wave of the pandemic, further steps may be even more severe, resembling a typical lockdown with a "total closure". - If the situation does not improve, it is possible that further restrictions will be introduced before the Easter holidays. We might have to close everything then- the Minister announced.

RMF FM got hold of information suggesting that the government’s threshold for introducing tighter restrictions is 30.000 new daily infections. On Wednesday, Poland registered over 25.000 new cases. On Thursday -  already over 27.000

Moreover, citing its confidential source inside the government, Onet.pl reports that the Office of the Prime Minister is also working on legislation that would allow restricting freedom of movement. An internal travel ban is supposed to be introduced if the pandemic continues to accelerate.

Shortage of hospital beds

According to the Ministry of Health, on Wednesday, 30.000 hospital beds were available for covid patients nationwide. That’s 600 more than on Tuesday. 21,500 people were hospitalized, roughly 300 more than the day before. On the national level, the situation does not look that grim. Yet, in particular regions and individual hospitals, the scale of the problem is much worse.

- In the temporary coronavirus hospital opened at the National Stadium, 276 out of 318 hospital beds are currently occupied. But in the hospital at Wołoska Street, where we also accept infected patients with other diseases, there are practically no available beds left - says Iwona Sołtys, the spokesperson for the Central Clinical Hospital of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration in Warsaw.

On Tuesday, the #1 Specialist Hospital in Bytom (southern Poland), received an order from the governor to create 30 additional beds for patients with Covid-19. The ward was opened on Wednesday. By noon, 11 beds were already occupied. - I suppose that until evening all the beds will be filled - says Jerzy Jaroszewicz, MD, head of the hospital’s infectious diseases ward.

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

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