Over the past week Poland has continued to experience a spike in reported Covid-19 case numbers, with over 17,000 new cases being reported on Wednesday, despite the recent tightening of some restrictions and the reimposition of a near total lockdown in the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship or province in the north east of the country. Międzynarodowy Dzień Kobiet, or International Women’s Day, was celebrated on Monday, but in Poland it’s an occasion with some sharp political overtones especially this year in the context of the Strajk Kobiet and the ongoing conflict over abortion rights versus the right to life.
The main news stories over the past week have included:
• Poland reports over 17,000 new daily Covid-19 cases on Wednesday as the third wave of infections escalates
• A Polish diplomat is expelled from neighbouring Belarus for taking part in a commemorative event for the ‘Żołnierze Wyklęcki’ – Polish anti-communist resistance fighters
• PKN Orlen sources one million tons of crude from the U.S. as part of moves to diversify energy supplies and reduce dependence on Russia, and
• President Duda extends thanks to the nation’s women on the occasion of International Women’s Day on Monday.
The recent spike in Covid-19 cases in Poland has escalated over the past week. On Wednesday officials reported a further 17,260 new cases and 398 deaths. Wednesday’s new case figure was the highest reported so far this year, albeit still well below figures seen last year. The highest number of new cases reported in Poland to date was 27,875 on November 7th. Of the 398 new deaths reported on Wednesday 309 were said to be of people with serious pre-existing medical conditions, while 89 were said to be directly attributed to Covid-19.
On Monday Poland had reported 6,170 new cases and 32 deaths and on Tuesday 9,954 new infections and 282 deaths. Poland’s strictest regional lockdown remains in force in the north-eastern Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship, where shopping malls, cinema and other cultural institutions have been closed and all schooling has returned to online classes, since the 27th of February.
Wednesday’s figures brought the total number of reported cases since the outbreak began a year ago to 1.83m and the number of deaths to 45,997. Also on Wednesday officials said that to date 4.09m Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered. This included over 2.64 million people who’ve received a first dose with just under 1.45m having received the second shot.
On Tuesday, Marcin Przydacz, an Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, warned that Poland will respond ‘promptly and adequately’ to what he termed the ‘unjustified decision’ by Belarus to expel a Polish diplomat from the country. The diplomat, based in the Polish Consulate General in Brest in the south west of Belarus very close to the border with Poland, was ordered to leave the country after taking part in an event to honour the Żołnierze Wyklęcki, Poland’s anti-communist resistance fighters who fought on after the end of the Second World War. Przydacz told reporters that the expulsion placed an added ‘burden on the difficult relations between the two countries’. Relations were already badly strained by Poland’s strong support of the democratic opposition to the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus. Commenting on Tuesday Przydacz said that ‘We appeal to the authorities in Minsk to engage in dialogue with its people, free political prisoners and restore basic civil liberties’.
On Tuesday, PKN Orlen, the state-owned oil refiner and petrol retailer headquartered in Płock, announced that it had reached what was termed an ‘unprecedented’ deal with U.S. oil giant Exxon Mobil for the purchase of one million tons of crude. The state-owned company’s President, Daniel Obajtek, commented that ‘for the first time ever, PKN Orlen has concluded a long-term contract for the supply of crude oil from the U.S.’. Obajtek added that ‘The agreement with Exxon Mobil provides for a total of around 1 million tons of crude for our refineries in Poland, the Czech Republic and Lithuania over a year. We are continuing to diversify our supply sources’. The move forms part of Poland’s efforts to diversify its energy supply away from what has been perceived as over-dependence on Russia. The PKN Orlen group itself currently buys its crude oil under long-term contracts with suppliers in Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile on the issue of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, which Poland has strenuously opposed, a group of five U.S. Republican lawmakers have written to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, stating their view that ‘We are deeply concerned that the Administration’s strong statements in opposition to the pipeline are not being matched by equally strong actions’. Speaking on Tuesday Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, referring to the Biden administration said that ‘I think they are engaged in a full diplomatic push to stop Nord Stream 2’. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has previously termed Nord Stream 2 as ‘a new hybrid weapon’ aimed at the European Union and NATO.
Suspended judge Igor Tuleya, a fierce critic of the Polish government’s judicial reforms, on Monday launched a legal action to be allowed to return to work, after an Appeal Court had earlier overturned his suspension last November. The Warszawa District Court had nevertheless refused to allow him to return to work. Tuleya said he’d take his case to the European Court of Justice if it fails in the domestic courts. Tuleya has been accused by government supporters of being a symbol of judges who view themselves as above the law as set in accordance with the Polish constitution, and who are causing chaos in the country’s legal system.
Last weekend construction work got underway on a major transport infrastructure project in north western Poland which includes an underground road tunnel that will replace a ferry link in the port and resort town of Świnoujście, near the city of Szczecin, that has been a major traffic bottleneck. Świnoujście Mayor Janusz Żmurkiewicz commented that ‘A final 18 months of hard work lies ahead of us. Only 18 months…how little, considering that we have waited for this moment for many, many years now’.
Above: ORP Błyskawica pictured in her usual birth in the port city of Gdynia. (Photo: “ORP ‘Błyskawica'” by transport131 is licensed under CC BY 2.0)
One of the top tourist attractions in the Tri-Cities, the decommissioned Polish naval vessel ORP Błyskawica, normally moored at anchor in Gdynia, is in need of a complete overhaul. It’s been moved to a shipyard for repair work and won’t be open to the public for at least the next 90 days. On Tuesday the 85-year-old vessel was moved by three tug boats to a dry dock in the PGZ Naval Shipyard. The ship’s second-in-command said that ‘We would like to have the decks tested and repaired, the same goes with the sheathing, ballast tanks and masts’. The last major overhaul on the vessel was undertaken in 2014. She’s the second of two Grom-class destroyers built for the Polish Navy in 1935-’37 and the now museum ship is the oldest preserved destroyer in the world.
Last Monday, March 8th, marked International Women’s Day, Międzynarodowy Dzień Kobiet, and was celebrated in Poland as in many other countries. While the day attracted particular significance during the Communist era and suffered a relative decline in popularity thereafter with official celebrations being abandoned in 1993, it has attracted more attention in Poland in recent years, in particular becoming a focus for feminist groups. This year demonstrations took place in several cities all over the country, including Warszawa, which were given added impetus by last October’s Constitutional Tribunal ruling which further restricted the legal grounds for abortion in Poland.
In a video message President Andrzej Duda extended congratulations to Polish women and said that ‘At this time of coronavirus pandemic, I especially address those of our ladies who are directly involved in the fight against this top global threat’. Duda added that ‘In this difficult time, we realise more than ever just how important the role of women is in every area of our life’.
That’s all for this week.