WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland announced further restrictions on Wednesday to halt the spread of the coronavirus and said it would impose a full national lockdown if COVID-19 cases continue to surge.
Doctors have told Polish media that the country is running out of hospital beds, ventilators, oxygen and medics as daily infections and deaths have hit new record highs.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said most shops in shopping malls, theatres, museums, galleries and cinemas would close from Saturday. All school pupils who are not already working remotely will start to do so from Monday, he said, while hotels will remain open only for business guests.
“If this plan fails, then in a week or 10 days we will have a national quarantine, which will be very severe,” Morawiecki told a news conference, alluding to a blanket lockdown.
Poland has already shut bars and restaurants, limited swimming pool activity and advised the elderly to stay at home.
Earlier in the day Poland reported 24,692 new COVID-19 cases and 373 deaths, rattling investors who fret about the economic fallout from the pandemic and sending Warsaw’s main stock index, the WIG20, sharply lower. It was down 1.7% at 1419 GMT.
The ruling, arch-conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) has said that recent large street protests against a new, almost total ban on abortion have abetted the spread of COVID-19.
“We hoped the protests we faced…wouldn’t lead to so many new infections, but all the signs in heaven and on earth show that…unfortunately they led to more cases,” Morawiecki said.
Some immunologists, however, noted that the protesters wore face masks, observed social distancing and marched in the open air, which reduces the risk of infection. Protest organisers said the government was wrongly trying to shift blame for its own failure to contain the pandemic onto them.
Recent polls have shown a sharp drop in support for PiS, as anger over their handling of the pandemic and the issue of abortion has grown.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski, Agnieszka Barteczko, Pawel Florkiewicz, Anna Koper and Alan Charlish in Warsaw, Adrianna Ebert in Gdansk; Editing by Mark Heinrich)