WARSAW — Poland will close most public venues this Saturday for three weeks, as the rapidly growing number of new daily coronavirus cases threatens the country’s already overwhelmed health care services, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said Wednesday.
On the day of the announcement, the country noted 25,052 new infections, a 44 percent jump on the same day last week, Poland’s health ministry said in its daily report; 52 percent of the cases are of the more infectious British variant. There were 453 fatalities, up 13 percent over last week.
“The main reason for the development of this situation and its acceleration is the British mutation of the coronavirus,” Niedzielski told reporters.
Poland started clamping down over the last two weeks as the country entered the third wave of the pandemic, introducing tougher measures in two regions, However, the surge is now forcing the government to impose national measures to keep the health system from being overwhelmed, Niedzielski said.
Under the new rules that go into effect on Saturday, shopping malls will close except for essential stores like groceries or pharmacies. Cinemas, theaters and other cultural institutions will close. Hotels, swimming pools, ski slopes, fitness centers and other sports venues will also shut down.
Poland will also suspend classes for pupils in the first three classes of school — the only ones who had been attending school. That puts the country’s entire education system back online.
The government also asked companies to keep employees at home if possible.
“We have to limit mobility and the transmission of the virus,” Niedzielski said.
Still, those measures fall short of the curfews and lockdowns in place in many other EU countries.
Niedzielski said that further restrictions might be necessary if the situation does not improve.
“If extending restrictions to the entire territory of Poland does not put an end to the epidemic, or at least slow down the third wave, then the next steps will be a typical lockdown, where we will close everything completely,” Niedzielski said.
Some experts have criticized the government’s response to the third wave.
“Apart from lockdown, [the government] hasn’t proposed anything new. That is not an active fight against the virus. We also do not test on a mass scale,” Paweł Grzesiowski, an expert with Poland’s doctors association NIL, told private broadcaster TVN24.
Poland has recorded 1,956,974 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began in the country of 38 million a year ago. The number of fatalities has reached 48,032.