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Record daily death toll

On Thursday, the Polish Health Ministry reported a total of 27 877 new COVID-19 cases and 954 deaths- a grim all-time record.

The latest epidemiological update prepared by the WHO lists Poland as one of the leading countries in terms of weekly death statistics. The data used in the report, gathered in the week between March 29-April 4, shows that over 3,000 infected people have died in Poland within seven days, leaving the country with a rate of 8 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. In Italy, this indicator is at 5, whereas in Brazil - 10. At the same time, WHO experts did not take into account a group of smaller countries with a population of less than 10 million. There, the situation is even worse.

According to data provided by the Health Ministry, the test positivity rate in Poland is also relatively high. Of the 111.300 people tested on Wednesday, 25% were positive.

Moreover, of the 44,878 hospital beds prepared for Covid-19 patients requiring intensive care, 78% are already occupied.

As of Tuesday, 3362 ventilators (78%) nationwide were occupied. The total number of devices reported by the Ministry is 4293.

Vaccination chaos

Poland is about to receive 7 million additional vaccine doses from four different manufacturers this month. This creates a need for additional local distribution points, as well as additional staff, other doctors, and nurses, who could give the shots. Pharmacists, physiotherapists, paramedics, dentists, etc. should all be able to administer the vaccines.

Legislation making it possible went into effect already last week. – In some places, we will have to deal with a surplus – Minister Michał Dworczyk, who is responsible for the national vaccination program, said during a press conference on Tuesday. The point is that the number of vaccinations distributed in particular areas will largely depend on the capacities and organizational capabilities of local governments and hospitals.

Mr. Dworczyk’s comment has also been a reference to recent reports from the city of Rzeszów, where a record number of vaccinations per capita has sparked a heated public debate. The controversy was caused by the fact that 40, 30, and even 20-year-olds could get vaccinated without a referral, jumping the line and getting a shot before the age groups prioritized by the national vaccination guidelines. Oppositional politicians and critical commentators point out that the unusual pace of distributing vaccines in Rzeszów might be connected to the city’s upcoming mayoral election in May, where a representative of the ruling party is running against a candidate supported by the entire democratic opposition.

Earlier this month, large traffic on the online patient platform caused Poland’s entire e-health system to temporarily break down. Moreover, people aged 40-59 who registered for vaccinations online between January and March were automatically issued a referral on March 31. Mr. Dworczyk later explained that this was due to the low number of applications for vaccinations among 60-year-olds. The decision, it turns out, was never consulted and caused major confusion. Additionally, 60,000 40-year-olds received appointments for April ahead of the oldest age groups, but ultimately had them canceled and rescheduled for May.

Public health expert: “The situation is critical”

We asked Dr. Paweł Grzesiowski, one of Poland’s leading public health experts and an avid critic of the ruling camp, to comment on how the Polish government is handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Head of the President's Office, Paweł Szrot, reported that Andrzej Duda "evaluates the government’s strategy to combat the pandemic to be good”. Do you share his optimism?

Dr. Paweł Grzesiowski, an expert of the Supreme Medical Council for COVID-19: Given what is happening right now, I think that any assessment at this point is premature. We just had another day where there are less than 10,000 new cases and almost a thousand people have been hospitalized. That puts us up against the wall. We no longer have enough hospital beds or staff. We need support from overseas and the military. The situation is critical. If it takes, let’s say, three weeks for the third wave to flatten out, we will have 300-500 new patients in hospitals every day. I am afraid we’ll see dramatic scenarios. There might be not enough beds for patients. Right now, this is what we need to talk about. We can start evaluating the situation only after the wave has died down. Still, I think that such an optimistic view of the government’s management of the third wave of the pandemic finds no reflection in reality. We must hold the authorities accountable for what has not been done. Let’s remember that the third wave broke out gradually, starting in northern Poland, and according to all forecasts, we were a month late with the lockdown. If it turns out to be the case, if experts analyze the situation and conclude that the decisions regarding additional restrictions were made too late, this won’t be something to be proud of.

Should the current restrictions be maintained or even increased?

- First of all, we need data, information from interviews conducted by the sanitary inspectorate: we need to know where people get infected. If it turns out that there are still some places where the virus can be transmitted without any limits, we should introduce more restrictions there. If people get infected at home, then unfortunately no lockdown, even the most restrictive one, will change anything. A lockdown means keeping people at home, that’s it. On the other hand, if it turns out that there are public places where people get infected more often, we should immediately introduce restrictions there.

In one of our previous conversations, you said that we don't have a leader in Poland who could shoulder the responsibility for fighting the pandemic. Do you still stand by your words?

- Yes, I still think that the pandemic in Poland is in some sense a stray. There is no group of people dedicated exclusively only to this issue. Of course, it may seem that the Sanitary Inspectorate, the Minister of Health, some crisis management team, that these are the people dedicated to handling this situation, but this is not the case. After all, these people have other duties. I imagine that a pandemic management center would consist of people who devote 100% or even 120% of their time and energy only to the fight against the pandemic. They'd be constantly monitoring the situation, issuing reports, providing decision-makers with data about what needs to be done and where.

We have 380 counties, each of them should have a supervisor who would be able to evaluate the local situation: what's exactly going on there, how intense is the pandemic, is it going down or up, how risky is to open the schools. And from all these regional puzzles, we could then put together the picture of the situation in the entire country, and act accordingly. Unfortunately, today, pandemic management is handled by government officials. In my opinion, it is ineffective.

You said that as far as the State Sanitary Inspection is concerned, we’re actually seeing its complete collapse.

- On the county level, inspectorate employees do their job, but there is no need for them. Data generated by the Sanitary Inspectorate are not taken into account when it comes to making decisions. After all, our employees are well prepared and know what they’re doing. I know how much work they put into, for example, conducting epidemic investigations, conducting interviews, etc. The problem, in my opinion, is that the Sanitary Inspectorate is not using the information it already. Someone should take the data from all local facilities, summarize it, and generate specific reports based on that information. I'm going to say something almost impossible to comprehend, but as of today, we do not even how many people have been vaccinated in individual counties.

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Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about Polish politics and society, keeping a critical eye on the ruling camp’s persistent assault on democratic values and the rule of law; the growing cultural tension between religious fundamentalism and human rights; and the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. Our journalists are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities, reporting from the streets, hospitals, and courtrooms about issues that move public opinion.

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