PM vows to slow down COVID-19 infection rate

The PM outlined the strategic aims for the coming weeks, first among them being to limit the number of deaths particularly among those most exposed to risk, namely the elderly. Rafał Guz/PAP

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Saturday the government would strive to stabilise the COVID-19 epidemic situation and to slow the spread of the disease, adding that the strategy would try not to involve further closure of the economy.

On Saturday morning, the prime minister chaired a sitting of the Government Crisis Management Team, which he highlighted meets daily.

Vowing to attempt to manage the situation so that the infection rate slowed, Morawiecki drew attention to the fact that today's global infection total was about 350,000 and said the situation in Europe and Poland should be seen in this context.

"We're dealing with a situation where there is a record number of cases in all the countries of Europe and that situation is also dynamic," he said.

The PM also outlined the strategic aims for the coming weeks, first among them being to limit the number of deaths, particularly among those most exposed to risk, namely the elderly.

Second, Morawiecki said, is ensuring the capacity of the health service.

"Our third strategic aim for the coming weeks, months, is maintaining the economy in the greatest possible sanitary regime, but at normal turnover. So that where possible the economy will function normally. Those sectors that are most related to interpersonal contact - as have been limited in the last few months, will be limited in the coming months. However, the remaining industrial facilities, companies, enterprises - trade, services, we want to be able to function," he said, adding that the government would strive to ensure there is not a further closure of the economy as there was in March and April.

The prime minister issued a strong appeal for elderly people to stay at home, highlighting that people of 60-65 years of age and above are most at risk and citing "unambiguous" empirical data that one in five people over 80 who contracted COVID-19 died of the disease. He said observing guidelines could save the lives of senior citizens and called for inter-generational solidarity, i.e. for younger people to help the elderly.

He also said that on October 15 Poland will reinstate separate shopping hours for people over 60 from 10:00 to 12:00 in grocery stores, pharmacies and drug stores.

Morawiecki invited the opposition to a meeting early next week and declared his readiness to work with anyone who wished to help in the fight against coronavirus. He said meetings with opposition groups in the spring had been fruitful and invited them to discuss their ideas and doubts, adding that he wanted the government and opposition MPs to be "a single team."

He said that on Thursday or Friday at the latest, the government would announce further decisions.

He explained that the government saw no need to make distance learning mandatory in Polish schools and that, after long discussions with epidemiologists, he believed that maintaining the current status quo was the right thing to do. He said he was aware of the health effects, including psychological, of isolation and explained that the government was seeking "hybrid" solutions.

The head of government admitted that some civil liberties would be curtailed but that this was necessary in order to stem the spread of COVID-19. Commenting on protests by people who do not believe the pandemic is real and are opposed to civil liberties being affected, Morawiecki said other people - between 10 and 20 percent of Poles - demanded stricter restrictions and a closure of the economy. He said the government respected the views of all citizens but was basing its decisions on the advice of epidemiologists and virologists. He appealed to the public to heed the advice of doctors and specialists.

He pointed out that in May and June everyone had called for the economy to be unfrozen and that at the time there had been a slowdown in the spread of coronavirus. But, he said, the current wave is ever greater. "I am convinced that we will find and are finding appropriate ways, methods to limit it," he said.

Health Minister Adam Niedzielski told the press conference that his ministry had signed a contract for 80,000 doses of remdesivir, a COVID-19 treatment drug. He said 20,000 doses would be received this month and the rest would be delivered "systematically" until March. "It is essentially a drug that is used as a defence against the transition to oxygen support, i.e. a respirator," Niedzielski said.

The health minister went on to say that the raft of virus countermeasures would be systematically developed. He said a special shopping time for senior citizens was the beginning and that more comprehensive solutions would be unveiled next week but cautioned that the "brake" rested with the public and their behaviour. "We're hitting the brake from today," he told reporters, calling for public responsibility.

Niedzielski also announced that he had instructed the Material Reserves Agency to issue 300 more respirators and 264 more cardio-monitors to hospitals, adding that the number of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients is being increased and that province governors had declared 11,000 hospital beds in readiness while 4,500 were in use for COVID-19 patients.