WARSAW – Poland's resistance to introducing new lockdowns and restrictions amid skyrocketing COVID-19 infections and deaths is drawing criticism from the country's medical professionals and is bucking a growing European embrace of limits on the unvaccinated.
The populist right-wing government of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki appears unwilling to enact measures that would anger voters and deal another blow to an economy struggling with high inflation. In Western Europe, where the vaccination rates are markedly higher than Poland’s 53%, restrictions have recently led to protests and rioting.
“We certainly know at the moment that restrictions are not an effective means of limiting the growth of the pandemic,” Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said on Thursday, when 497 new deaths were recorded in Poland.
It is an idea sharply disputed by many doctors in Poland, who have been calling for the government to act.
In recent weeks, the rise in infections has prompted authorities to re-activate temporary hospitals that were shut months ago. Thousands of schoolkids have recently been quarantined or begun remote learning amid outbreaks.
On Friday, there were 421 more deaths reported, bringing the total number of deaths to 1,784 since Monday — a level last seen in the spring when the central European region was a global virus hot spot.
Meanwhile, 26,735 new infections were reported on Friday, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to nearly 3.5 million infections and over 82,000 deaths in the nation of 38 million people.
Across Europe, governments are ordering new restrictions in hopes of putting the breaks on surging infections. Austria has gone the furthest with a nationwide lockdown that began on Monday and will be followed by restrictions on the unvaccinated.
By contrast, the Polish government has only urged citizens to get vaccinated and has made mask-wearing in public compulsory.
The deputy health minister, Waldemar Kraska, said last week that more restrictions are pointless because Poles are predisposed to rejecting them. "We have a gene of opposition in us," he said.
Niedzielski, the health minister, has said the government would consider additional restrictions in mid December if infection numbers don't decline by then. He said that would be a “black scenario,” and “it all depends on the efficiency of hospitals.”
Poland faces the rising infections as a worrying new variant of the coronavirus has emerged in South Africa, while the start of immunizing kids aged 5-11 — which should help raise immunity in the population — is still weeks away.
Michal Dworczyk, the government’s vaccination chief, said the government doesn't plan to make vaccinations mandatory and that more educational campaigns wouldn't help much given that “everyone knows about vaccinations" already.
Dworczyk said at this stage, a “sharp increase in the number of vaccinations can only be influenced by fear.”