SEATTLE, Washington — In early March, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the nation would do “whatever it takes” to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Poland. The nation was in an already severe social and political crisis. Therefore, it took drastic containment measures at the first appearance of COVID-19 in Poland.
Poland Reacts to COVID-19
On March 2, the Polish government created an emergency law to control the spread of COVID-19. On March 9, it started enforcing health checks at the country’s borders. Then, the next day, regulations expanded to limit “gatherings of more than 1,000 people in open spaces” and 500 or more “in confined spaces.” March 15 saw even greater adoption of drastic containment measures when the government closed restaurants, bars and clubs. Gatherings of more than 50 people were also prohibited. Additionally, Polish citizens and foreigners living or working in Poland were required to quarantine for 14 days.
At the beginning of April, the country limited outings to 2 people. By the end of April, the government extended the closure of its border until May 9. Poland lifted lockdown restrictions in mid-May and most businesses reopened at that time. Additionally, Poland opened its border to other EU member states in mid-June. As a result, Poland was one of two EU countries that did not pass the COVID-19 peak.
Poland’s Economy Before and After COVID-19
However, COVID-19 in Poland still highlighted some potent issues the nation must address. These issues include income inequalities, systemic poverty and the nation’s already-troubled coal industry. Before the pandemic, “Poland was among the fastest-growing economies” in the EU with growth in household consumption, increases in budgetary expenditures, tight labor market and rising wages. Furthermore, the country’s poverty rate was declining.
In 2017, Poland reported a 1.4% poverty rate, down 0.4% from 2016. Now, with COVID-19 in Poland, people fear an additional 6 million Polish people could fall into poverty. In April, 966,000 (5.8%) Polish people registered as unemployed. April’s unemployment rate “was almost twice as high” when compared to the country’s unemployment rate before COVID-19. The number exceeded one million (6%) the following month.
The Effect on Coal Miners
Coal miners are frustrated, too by “stagnant wages and a feeling the government is less committed to supporting them,” said Patryk Kosela. Poland’s coal industry was already changing and becoming less efficient. With much of Poland’s coal unused, several mines closed. This translated to miners losing their jobs.
Since coal mines have long been considered Poland’s pride, this comes as a shock. Roughly 80,000 people were employed by the coal mines in Poland in 2018, responsible for 80% of Poland’s electricity production that year. Yet it is important to note that in 1990, there were 400,000 employees, meaning the coal mines have gradually been minimizing over time.
Eventually, the country promises to close its coal mines gradually by 2049, shifting to cleaner energy. In doing so, Poland plans to introduce a social contract that would directly influence Poland’s energy policy, set deadlines for completion and provide social guarantees to workers.
Aid During COVID-19
Professor Ryszard Szarfenberg said “Poles are getting poorer. Some less and some more,” hinting at the growing income disparities in Poland. While the unemployment rate rises, this will potentially increase systemic poverty, which the Polish government has not acknowledged. Instead, the government hopes to initiate additional benefits like PLN 500 for each child and an additional pension.
COVID-19 in Poland has revealed important issues the government must face. Poland plans to enforce new restrictions to limit the virus’s spread, and the government is looking to create legislative changes to “regionalize restrictions on many levels.”
The Orange Foundation, an organization that works to contribute to positive economic and social development, is also stepping up. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Poland, the foundation is focusing on healthcare and online education as well as equipping “hospitals, charities and orphanages with protective equipment” and human resources. Children in orphanages are accessing education through digital equipment and e-learning applications the foundation provides. The Empowering Children Foundation, which the Orange Foundation backs, is also helping children and teenagers experiencing psychological distress through anonymous phone and email support hotlines. It performed 89 life-saving interventions in March.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the nation will do whatever it takes to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Poland, and he has stuck by this. Because the country introduced “an early and strict lockdown,” rates of infection and death were lower than other European countries. Additionally, Poland suffered the smallest GDP decline than any other EU state as well.
– Danielle Lindenbaum