States of Emergency in Europe: Poland

Series of overviews by authors of our network on political measures of state of emergency in European countries. The selection will be extended continuously.

COVID-19 and the Situation in Poland

A.    The government has acted decisively during the past week trying to isolate people and enact social distancing. From the end of last week a number of measures were introduced these include:
1.    The closing of all schools and universities
2.    Restricted opening of shopping centres
3.     The closure of all clubs, pubs, restaurants and casinos
4.    A ban on all gatherings of more than 50 people
5.    A ban on foreigners entering Poland (except those resident or working in Poland) and compulsory 14-day quarantine for Poles returning from abroad
6.    The suspension of all international air and rail connections

There has been controversy over whether masses in Churches should be allowed to happen or not. The Catholic Church has organised more masses so that there will be less people attending – meaning the Church has not followed the example of Italy where all Churches were closed. Also, as yet the Presidential elections due to be held on 10 May have not yet been cancelled.

B.    The weak side of the government’s fight against the COVID-10 has been that there has been very little testing and very few available masks, hand disinfectant, etc. This means that the authorities are not able to identify where the virus is, isolate these areas/clusters and have rather gone for a full universal programme of isolation. This is partly because the Polish government was the only EU country which did not take part in the auction of tests and masks in January. At this time the government was not treating the virus seriously and not preparing society for the event. If the virus were to spread in a mass way within society then the health system (which has suffered through three decades of neo-liberal reform) would be unable to cope and does not have the necessary equipment (e.g. there are only 10,000 respirators in Poland, compared with 300,000 in the Czech Republic, which has a much smaller population).

C.    Although the general ‘lock-down’ is working relatively well at the moment, there does not seem to be any preparation for this to continue long-term. Around 30 percent of Polish workers are on temporary contracts and a large proportion of people are self-employed. As yet there has been no mobilisation of society to help support the vulnerable and their families. If the government intends to keep this quarantine going for a long period of time then it will need to support people who have no income; support businesses that have collapsed; and invest heavily in the health system to prepare it to deal with the virus.

D.    The Polish government will receive the largest share out of the funds that the European Union will provide member states to deal with COVID-19 (EUR 7.4 bn out of EUR 37.3 bn). According to the public TV website: “The money will come from the cohesion policy fund. Poland will be the biggest beneficiary, because according to the 2014-2020 EU budget, the country was meant to receive the most funds from this pool anyway. If it was not for the epidemic, these funds would have been directed towards other initiatives or investment co-financed by the EU or they would not be spent at all, if the member-states could not match them.”