Above: Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin. (Photo: “File:Jacek Sasin Sejm 2016.JPG” by Adrian Grycuk is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)
It’s been a particularly busy news week in Poland with further developments concerning Covid-19 including the reopening of on-site schooling for the youngest pupils, some businesses – fearful of bankruptcy – reopening themselves in defiance of government restrictions, and a reported delay in vaccine deliveries. But there has been much else besides.
The main news stories over the past week have included:
· Businesses move to reopen themselves ahead of the easing of restrictions citing economic necessity
· Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin is hospitalised with Covid-19 amid a temporary reduction in vaccine deliveries
· Jerzy Brzęczek is sacked as the head coach of Poland’s national soccer team and
· Quintuplets are born at a hospital in Poznań.
This week much focus in Poland has been on the economic pain suffered by businesses due to Covid-19 and the associated restrictions on economic activity. Many businesses are reported to have reopened on Monday in defiance of official restrictions, arguing they’ve no choice it they’re to survive, as government compensation is inadequate. The authorities have warned that such actions risk worsening the virus, will lead to the imposition of fines on such businesses and their exclusion from all benefits under the government’s so-called ‘anti-crisis shield’. Responding to questions from reporters Prime Minister Morawiecki urged businesses to comply with the rules, while the government spokesperson, Piotr Müller, said the restrictions were needed and that ‘it is not that someone wanted to shut down a business out of spite’.
A slew of additional restrictions introduced after Christmas including the closure of hotels, ski slopes and non-essential retail outlets are due to remain in force at least until January 31st . Businesses in popular winter holiday destinations are particularly concerned as they see their prime season ebbing away. Last Monday schools reopened for the youngest pupils – those attending grades one to three of elementary education.
The government said on Wednesday that over 541,000 people have so far been vaccinated against Covid-19. Health officials said there had been just 195 adverse reactions. However, the pace of vaccination may temporarily slow somewhat due to a reduction in vaccine deliveries to Poland. Last Friday Pfizer announced that it needed to temporarily reduce vaccine deliveries in Europe while it upgrades its production facilities to boost future capacity.
A further 176,000 doses from Pfizer and its German partner arrived in Poland on Monday according to Chancellery minister, Michał Dworczyk, whose in charge of the vaccination campaign. On Tuesday Dworczyk said that it would only be possible to vaccinate 130,000 medical staff this week compared to the 330,000 originally planned. He said, however, that a second dose of the vaccine will be available for everyone who has already received their first shot.
The government is hoping to vaccinate just under 3 million people during the first quarter of the year. Since last Friday those aged over 80 years could sign-up to register for vaccination and that will be expanded to those aged over 70 years from this Friday, with vaccinations for that cohort commencing next Monday.
On Tuesday it was announced that Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State Assets, Jacek Sasin, has been hospitalised suffering from Covid-19. It was confirmed last Thursday that he’d been infected with the virus. A group of Lewica lawmakers have also been diagnosed with Covid-19 among them the deputy Speaker of the Sejm, Włodzimierz Czarzasty. As of Wednesday, the total number of Covid-19 cases in Poland since the outbreak began is put at 1.45m with over 34,000 deaths.
On Friday it was reported that the Justice Ministry has drawn up a bill to defend online freedom of speech and to provide users with an appeal mechanism if their social media posts are removed. The bill would prohibit social media platforms from blocking users or taking down their content unless it violated Polish law. A social media platform would have 48 hours to review a decision to remove content or block a user upon receipt of a complaint, with the user also having the right to appeal to a new Freedom of Speech Council. It’s five members would be appointed for a six-year-term by a three-fifths majority vote in the Sejm. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki commented that ‘Algorithms or the owners of corporate giants cannot decide for us which views are right and which are wrong’.
Georgette Mosbacher, the now former United States Ambassador to Poland whose term of office expired on Wednesday, delivered a farewell message the previous day during which she listed what she said were the main accomplishments in Polish – U.S. relations during her term in office. In a video message she said that ‘One of the greatest honors of my life was when President Trump asked me to become the United States ambassador to Poland’. Mosbacher added that ‘every minute I have spent in Poland has been a joy’ and promised to visit regularly. She cited as particular accomplishments Poland’s inclusion in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, U.S. support for the Three Seas Initiative and enhanced bilateral cooperation in the fields of defence and energy. Meanwhile Poland’s Ambassador to the United States, Piotr Wilczek, told Polish Radio that he hopes relations between the two countries will remain good under the new Biden administration.
In his farewell address as U.S. President, Donald Trump made reference to his July 6th, 2017, speech before a large crowd in front of the Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego (Warsaw Uprising Museum) saying ‘This is a republic of proud citizens who are united by our common conviction that America is the greatest nation in all of history. We are, and must always be, a land of hope, of light, and of glory to all the world. This is the precious inheritance that we must safeguard at every single turn. For the past four years, I have worked to do just that. From a great hall of Muslim leaders in Riyadh to a great square of Polish people in Warsaw; from the floor of the Korean Assembly to the podium at the United Nations General Assembly; and from the Forbidden City in Beijing to the shadow of Mount Rushmore, I fought for you, I fought for your family, I fought for our country. Above all, I fought for America and all it stands for — and that is safe, strong, proud, and free’.
There has been strong international condemnation of the arrest of the leading Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny upon his return to Moscow last Sunday following medical treatment in Germany necessitated by his poisoning last year, for which the Kremlin was widely blamed. On Monday he was remanded in custody for 30 days. Navalny could face up to three and a half years in jail for breaking the conditions of a suspended prison sentence he received arising from a 2014 conviction for fraud, which he claims was politically motivated.
Both President Duda and Prime Minister Morawiecki called for his release and Poland said it was consulting with European partners to raise the issue via the United Nations Human Rights Commission, of which Poland is a member. President Duda said in a Twitter post that ‘the actions of the Russian authorities towards Alexei Navalny must not be without consequences for that country’s relations with the international community. On behalf of Poland, a member of the UN Human Rights Council, I appeal for international solidarity in this situation’. Prime Minister Morawiecki described the arrest of Navalny as ‘another attempt to intimidate the democratic opposition in Russia’. He added that ‘A quick and unequivocal response at the EU level is essential. Respect for civil rights is the cornerstone of democracy. I appeal to the authorities in Russia to immediately release the detainee’. Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau commented very directly saying ‘Alexey, don’t give up!’.
In a truly tragic situation for all concerned the Polish Catholic Church and government have both got involved in the case of a gravely ill Polish man whose in a coma in a Plymouth hospital, and whose live support system has been turned off. Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki has written to the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales seeking the help of the Catholic Church there to save his life, saying that the man has been ‘sentenced to death by starvation’. The man went into a coma after suffering permanent brain damage due to a cardiac arrest last November. In December a court ruled in favour of allowing the hospital to turn off his lift support in line with the wishes of his wife, but against those of his mother and sister, who argued he would not want it turned off due to his Catholic beliefs. President Duda’s chief of staff, Krzysztof Szczerski, held talks about the case with the UK’s Ambassador to Poland, Anna Clunes, on Monday, tweeting afterwards that ‘It was a difficult conversation. I have also spoken with the Polish Ambassador to London, and I am in constant contact with Polish consuls who are on site in Plymouth’. It’s also been reported that a UK court has supported the stance of the hospital in not allowing a Polish consul to visit the Polish national, saying such a visit would not be in the man’s best interests, according to his relatives.
In a sudden and somewhat unexpected development, of the kind Irish soccer fans will be well familiar, on Tuesday the manager of Poland’s national soccer team, Jerzy Brzęczek, was sacked. In a terse statement the Polski Związek Piłki Nożnej (PZPN) or Polish Football Association said that ‘As of January 18th, 2021, Jerzy Brzęczek is no longer the head coach of the Polish national team.’ It’s President, Zbigniew Boniek, expressed thanks to Brzęczek for his work, but no reason for the decision was immediately given. Brzęczek’s contract had been extended just last May to run until at least the end of 2021 following the decision to postpone the European Championships, for which he had led Poland through a successful qualifying campaign. He had previously been capped 42 times for the national team as a player and had managed Wisła Płock before taking on the national role in the summer of 2018.
Poles may see a 1,000 złoty note in circulation before too long. The President of the Narodowy Bank Polski or National Bank of Poland, which is the central bank, Adam Glapiński, told reporters that ‘I think the next governor will be introducing the 1,000 złoty note’, which will make it sometime after 2022. Currently the highest denomination banknote in circulation is the 500 złoty note.
Quintuplets – four girls and one boy – were born at a hospital in Poznań on Sunday. All are reported to be healthy and have been named, Anastazja, Klara, Laura, Maksymilian and Wiktoria. The smallest, Anastazja, weights just 680 grams with the babies having been born prematurely in the 29th week of pregnancy. They’ll remain in incubators for several weeks. Quintuplets are born once in an estimated 55 million pregnancies.
A happy note on which to end.