Poland’s rightwing government is getting ready for the incoming fourth wave of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic but details on the scope of restrictions and measures to boost the vaccination rate are still unclear.
Tackling the projected peak of the fourth wave – estimated at 15,000 to even 30,000 new cases daily in late October and November – could well prove a political challenge for the government, led by Law and Justice (PiS).
With the fourth wave most dangerous for the unvaccinated, the government is facing the necessity of introducing regional curbs in regions with the lowest ratio of inoculations. Those are mainly in eastern Poland – PiS’ electoral stronghold.
“We can be sure that some restrictions will appear, mostly in those provinces with very low vaccination rates,” health ministry spokesman Wojciech Andrusiewicz admitted in an interview for private radio RMF FM last week.
The restrictions are likely to be on a county-per-county basis based on colour codes – where red means the strictest regime – which the government had tried during the previous surge in new infections.
There is no clarity, however, on what the government will eventually introduce and also whether it is going to force the vaccine-resistant Poles to get a shot, an even more complex political conundrum.
“We analyze the activities of our partners abroad,” the head of the prime minister’s office, Michal Dworczyk, told a news conference, referring to attempts by governments like the French at introducing so-called vaccine passes giving easier access to services to the vaccinated.
“There is no decision on these kinds of issues,” Dworczyk also said.
A proposal under consideration is reportedly to give employers the power to check on employees’ vaccination status and lower their pay if they avoided a jab. French-style vaccine passes are also being “discussed,” Dworczyk said.
Another measure currently under discussion is mandatory vaccination for certain groups like medics, teachers, police, firefighters, or the elderly. Again, the government has only mooted the idea without ultimately confirming it.
In recent weeks, Poland has seen a number of incidents in which anti-vaxxers abused medical professionals giving the shots. In one case, a mobile vaccination point was set on fire.
Poland has so far avoided a steep surge in the number of new coronavirus cases. But fears are growing about the fast spread of the highly transmissible delta variant as soon as schools reopen after the summer holidays because the country’s adult vaccination rate is only 58%, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
There are municipalities in the eastern regions of the country where the vaccination rate is not even 30%.
The government's pro-vaccination drive has all but petered out, with the rate of vaccine take-up one of the lowest in Europe.
To date, Poland has confirmed nearly 2.89mn coronavirus cases, including 75,340 deaths. The pandemic has been largely dormant since mid-June, with the seven-day average of new cases at an unintimidating 200 or so.