Poland tightens coronavirus measures amid record infections

Leszek Szymański/PAP

The government has announced new coronavirus guidelines following a record infection rise over three days of last week, peaking at 658 cases on Saturday.

Planned among others are police spot checks checks in shops and at weddings, and stricter fines for violating epidemic regulations.

On Sunday and Monday the infection count fell to 548 and 575 respectively, but still remained among the highest figures since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski said on Monday that there was no excuse for not wearing facemasks, and deplored that people "had to be reminded that there is a binding law."

Customers in Poland are obliged to weak facemasks in shops since April, but compliance among shoppers has waned after the government began easing lockdown restrictions. The new regulations are to step up enforcement, with the first police and sanitary spot checks in shops planned still this week.

Violators will have to reckon with on-the-spot fines up to PLN 500 (EUR 113), and up to PLN 30,000 zloty (EUR 6,800) if further action is taken against them.

Szumowski also stressed that facemasks had to cover the wearer's mouth and nose, and dismissed claims that the masks impaired breathing, suggesting that those who felt this way could use visors.

The new laws also oblige wedding organisers to register the number of guests in advance. Checks will then be carried out to ensure the reported guest number is not exceeded and that other sanitary restrictions are adhered to.

Wedding receptions, resumed in early June with an attendance limit of 150 people, have since become infection hot spots, with 350 cases and 2,300 related quarantinings reported by mid-July.

In response to Poland's rising infection count, Ukraine has added Poland to its list of increased-risk countries, which means arrivals from Poland will have to undergo 14 days of quarantine.

Last week the Polish government said it may restore quarantine restrictions for visitors from certain countries. It is also uncertain whether schools will reopen next month at the start of the academic year, or if the present remote learning model will be continued.

Speaking about the new restrictions in a Sunday interview for the Sieci weekly, Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that because Poland dealt with epidemic well, people have been "lulled into a false sense of security."

Morawiecki said work on the new legislation was still underway, and assured that solutions were being sought that will be "least painful for society and the economy." He added that a second epidemic wave in autumn was very probable, but opined that Poles were now "wiser" by their experiences over the past months.

On Monday government spokesperson Piotr Mueller told the TVN24 news channel that the planned legislative changes would also "regionalise restrictions on many levels."

This, Mueller said, meant that rules regulating the reopening of schools, customer limits in restaurants, etc., may now differ according to the local epidemiological situation. The new laws also markedly increase financial sanctions for companies that do not comply with the rules.

Until now Poland, which introduced an early and strict lockdown, has recorded relatively low infection and death figures against other European countries, with the infection rate relatively flat since the outset of April. Poland has also suffered the smallest GDP decline among the EU member states.