Poland: Living with coronavirus

Elections and COVID-19 make odd bedfellows, writes Pola Nachyła

The World Today
Published 25 June 2020 Updated 29 March 2021 2 minute READ

Pola Nachyła

Research Assistant, Faculty of Entrepreneurship, IE Business School

In the second week of March, the university where I am studying in Spain announced it would be closing for at least four weeks. Being able to both work and study remotely, I took this opportunity to come back to my family home in Poland. Little did I know, but two days after I arrived the Polish government announced a lockdown. My friends studying abroad were rushing to buy last minute tickets to Warsaw and Berlin, to make it in time before the border closure at midnight of March 14.

Poland enforced restrictions and social distancing measures much earlier in the progression of the COVID 19 virus than Spain or Italy did, which was a reason for national pride at the time. The cases were growing relatively slow. They even stabilised and had a small decrease right before the presidential elections that were supposed to take place in May. But in the end, they were postponed with four days to go.

The May election has been planned as an all-postal ballot, but the idea of putting the Polish national postal service in charge caused widespread alarm. Polling day was moved to Sunday June 28. And now it seems to have been a good call, as the situation has been getting worse even without the elections.

Despite Poland having done quite well in flattening the curve, more tests (from about 7000 to 22,000 per day) uncovered many more active cases, which increased to over 500 new ones on several days.

The hardest hit part of the country used to be Masovia province which includes the capital Warsaw. But the virus has now moved on to Silesia, a region known mainly for its dialect and mining industry. It now has about one third of the country’s cases, and it does not seem to be getting brighter there.

Meanwhile, international pressure and the government’s desire to project a good image before the elections has led to the lifting of most restrictions, with restaurants and barber shops reopening and, most importantly, the resumption of air travel. The Polish airline LOT has been running more national routes and, since June 16, international ones. But one Polish airport was kept closed. You guessed it – Katowice airport in Silesia.

While European countries are slowly letting in Polish tourists, no flights are welcome from Silesia province, so holiday destinations for those residents are restricted to shores of the Baltic Sea or the mountains to the south.

On June 24, President Andrzej Duda has travelled to meet President Donald Trump in Washington, four days before he seeks re-election. It was Trump’s first visit with a foreign leader since the pandemic was declared In March. So the Polish president was, in one sense at least, ahead of the curve.