It certainly wasn’t the Easter that most Poles would have hoped for with many being unable to attend religions services due to rules severely restricting numbers in churches or indeed to spend the time with family and loved ones. There has been a marked deceleration in new Covid-19 cases in Poland, whatever the value of those figures, but the government has nonetheless extended the additional restrictions imposed before Easter until April 18th. There has also been a major misstep in the government’s vaccination strategy with the brief opening of vaccinations to over 40s on – of all days – April 1st – followed by a system crash, the rescheduling of appointments and controversy over a leading opposition politician using the window to get vaccinated. Sport continues to be one source of positive news in Poland, despite the soccer team’s recent loss to England, none more so than tennis where Hubert Hurkacz looks to have the makings of a new star.
The main news stories over the past week have included:
• Health Minister Adam Niedzielski announces the additional restrictions due to lapse on Friday are being extended until April 18th
• Poland sees muted Easter celebrations in the shadow of Covid-19 and official calls to spend Easter at home
• Confusion amid a sudden extension followed by a swift row-back on vaccine eligibility for over 40s as Szymon Hołownia is among those vaccinated, and
• Hubert Hurkacz is a new Polish tennis champion winning the Miami Open men’s singles title.
Speaking at a press conference earlier today, Wednesday, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski announced that the additional Covid-19 restrictions imposed before Easter, which were due to lapse on April 9th, are being extended at least until April 18th. Hotels, cinemas, and other cultural and sporting facilities will remain shut, with sales of shops in shopping malls restricted to items deemed ‘essential’. In making the announcement he described the current 80% occupancy rate of hospital beds with ventilators as a danger signal and said that the recent results in terms of a downward curve in new case numbers was too weak a signal to justify optimism.
Poland celebrated Easter, like many other countries, in subdued fashion this year in the face of Covid-19 and with a fresh raft of restrictions in force. Attendance at church services was way smaller than normal due to official restrictions on the number of people allowed in churches – one per twenty square meters of space. Many Poles often travel long distances to be with their extended families, but Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called on people to stay at home and spend Easter only with their immediate family.
Claiming that Poland was facing its most difficult moment in the fight against Covid-19, he said that ‘That’s why I would like to address you with an appeal: let us stay at home this Easter, in the company of our immediate family, among those with whom we live every day. I know how difficult it is. I know that we are all very tired of this situation. But let’s do this for our loved ones, for our families and for ourselves’. He added that ‘Even after the darkest night, day finally arrives. And normality will also return after the pandemic’. In an Easter message posted on social media President Andrzej Duda wished Poles ‘new hope, internal rebirth and peace’.
Ruling party chairman and Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński has said he believes the crisis will be over in a few months. In an interview for this week’s issue of the Gazeta Polska news magazine he said that ‘I strongly believe that the optimists among doctors are right, and that in a few months we will be past the pandemic’.
The government faced criticism at the end of last week with people aged over 40 suddenly being offered appointments for vaccination with no advance publicity about the move. After just a few hours registration was temporarily suspended with appointments being cancelled and rearranged for a later date. Michał Dworczyk, the cabinet minister in charge of the vaccination campaign, apologised for the confusion amid press speculation that the decision to widen access had been made without even informing the Health ministry. Health Minister Adam Niedzielski told private broadcaster TVN that ‘a communication error occurred’.
Many people had rushed to sign-up on Thursday morning after registration was opened overnight leading an online system to crash. Dworczyk said that people aged under 60 would be rescheduled from April to the second half of May. Controversy has descended on the 44-year-old former independent Presidential candidate Szymon Hołownia, now the driving force behind the new Polska 2050 political movement, who used the window while appointments were being offered to the over 40s to get vaccinated. As of Wednesday, the total number of people vaccinated in Poland stood at 6.79m comprising over 4.7m who’ve received one dose and more than 2m who’ve received two doses.
Poland last Thursday reported another record total of new daily Covid-19 cases at 35,251. There are signs however, that the number of new cases in on a downward trajectory. On Monday, with figures likely impacted by the Easter break, Poland reported 9,902 new cases and 64 deaths. On Tuesday there were 8,245 new cases and 60 new deaths. On Wednesday Poland reported 14,910 new cases and 638 new deaths attributed at least in part to Covid-19. That brought the total number of cases reported in Poland since the outbreak began to 2.47m with 55,703 deaths at least partially attributed to the virus.
The government is pledging more measures to help support the economy. Last Thursday Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that up to an additional 30 bn. złotych (€6.5bn.) in aid would be made available to a wide range of sectors impacted by the current lockdown. He said that government support to businesses in the current crisis had so far totalled over 200 bn. złotych.
There was a bomb scare at Warszawa’s Chopin airport on Sunday. A Turkish Airlines plane was evacuated after a call warning of a bomb on board, but nothing suspicious was found in a subsequent search. Over 100 passengers and crew were ordered off the plane which had flown into Warszawa from Istanbul.
Prawo i Sprawiedliwość looks to be considering entering a nascent right-wing political alliance in the European Parliament. Last Thursday Prime Minister Morawiecki met in Budapest with his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orban, and Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s Northern League for talks focused on the creation of a new political alliance after which he said that ‘We need a renaissance of Europe and its values’. The three are to meet again in Warszawa next month. A new political grouping would represent a large rival to the centre-right European People’s Party, currently the largest grouping of MEPs, and from which Orban’s Fidesz party left last month following prolonged controversy over differences about the interpretation of ‘European values’.
This week the Prawo i Sprawiedliwość MEP Ryszard Czarnecki told the Onet.pl news website that early elections were an option being considered by Jarosław Kaczyński and the party if the current difficulties within the Zjednoczona Prawica continue, albeit he said it wasn’t the most likely scenario. Czarnecki said that given their pro-European stance he expected the Left and Platforma Obywatelska would not vote against the reconstruction fund, an item about which Solidarna Polska, part of the ruling bloc, has expressed reservations.
A new opinion poll out this week conducted between March 25th and 30th for the Rzeczpospolita daily showed that if the constituent parts of the Zjednoczona Prawica ran separately Solidarna Polska would make it into the Sejm in addition to PiS. The survey gave PiS on it’s own 26.1%, followed by Szymon Hołownia’s Polska 2050 movement on 17.8% with Koalicja Obywatelska in third place on 15.9%. The Left would get 8.2% if a parliamentary election was held now according to the poll, followed by Konfederacja on 6.1% and Solidarna Polska on 5.2%. The PSL would barely make it over the threshold with 5.1% support.
On Tuesday the European Union’s statistics agency Eurostat said that using its methodology Poland had the lowest unemployment rate in the 27-member bloc in February, at just 3.1%, beating the previous lowest, the Czech Republic, into second place at 3.2%. The EU average for February was 7.5% up 1% from 6.5% in the same month last year. Using a different methodology Poland’s Central Statistical Office (GUS) put the country’s February unemployment rate at 6.5%.
Above: Polish tennis star Hubert Hurkacz (Photo: “File:Hurkacz WMQ18 (32) (29681071278).jpg” by si.robi is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)
Polish tennis star Iga Świątek now has company on the male side following Hubert Hurkacz’s victory in last Sunday’s final of the Miami Open, becoming the first Pole to win an ATP Masters 1000 men’s singles title. He defeated the Italian Jannik Sinner 7-6, 6-4. Following his win, it was confirmed that Hurkacz has climbed 21 places to a career best to date of world number 16 in the latest ATP rankings.
That’s all for this week.