Meanwhile in Cuckooland 120 – COVID-19 special

How Poland tackles Coronavirus pandemics? With the pandemics spreading through Europe I’ve decided to depart from my usual hectic style and focus solely on one issue: How Poland tackles Coronavirus? I will look at how the country deals with the issue at various levels and then, for those who really cannot live without idiotic absurdswe look at the reactions of the Polish church.

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Click HERE to see all chapters of the series so far

The government

At first, they rejected any calls for actions. They said, that they are prerfectly prepared and there is no reason to worry. Soon they have changed their tune and said, that nobody could be prepared for such thing. But after initial chaotic reactions, the government is generally praised for its actions. The containment measures were introduced pretty quickly, there are testing stations, hospitals are converted into corona virus treatment centres. The police and other services created an unified system aimed to respond to the problems caused by the epidemics. The public information is great: apart from other usual channels the government is reaching out through other channels. Police has published a movie on Twitter and asked media to use it when discussing quarantine rules. Prime minister Morawiecki is reaching out to popular youtubers hoping to spread information amongst the younger generation:

Of course good information policy does not mean, that TVP stopped to lie for even a second. “Wiadomości” TVP continues to spread false information aiming at the European Union. On Friday the 13th they broadcasted a material, suggesting that the UE is completely not prepared to tackle the pandemics, ignoring the fact, that healthcare remains in the hands of the member states, and that the EU assigned special funds to tackle pandemics, of which Poland is to be the biggest beneficiary. Even EU commision debunked this material on their Twitter as a fake news.

The government so far also declined demands to postpone presidential election – probably because epidemics is good for their ranking: while all other candidates suspended their campaign and cancelled their meetings with voters, President Duda restlessly travels across the country with the team of TVP journalists, bothering medical professionals (or at least PiS activists dressed as such), so for him the campaign is going really well: total time devoted to Duda in TVP extended 17 hours (next in line, Krzysztof Bosak had 37 minutes, Robert Biedroń – left wing candidate – 44 seconds).

But the political gains are not the only way in which PiS tries to profit from the epidemics. The state controlled oil giant Orlen has switched one of their production lines to manufacture hand sanitizing liquid – which was a great move – and then sells it at 95 zł per 5 litres (which is heavily overpriced and toghether with the fact, that selling such items online has been banned, can be considered as the monopolistic actions). The concern argued that it’s “still below the average price at the moment” but after public pressure, they have dropped the price to 49 or to 15 zł for one litre bottles. Still, the hospitals point out, that due to additions of glicerine and other things, the liquid is unsuitable for disinfecting surfaces etc., so perhaps Orlen should look into that as well?

In general, though, the government response is pretty positive, although the opposition calls for measures to help people who’ll be left without a job due to pandemic-related closures. We’ll see how it will go from here, as at the moment, the whole government has been quarantined after Minister of Environment has been tested positive for corona virus.

The frontline

The situation on the front-line is less pink though. The medical professionals from everywhere report, that the system is completely unprepared to tackle the pandemics. Ok, there are test centres, people are well informed and advised to go there for test, but the centres not only don’t have any tests, but even face masks and gloves in stock. One of the bloggers, a nurse in Accident and Emergency department, described the situation using following analogy: The ski jumper began his descent towards the threshold of a huge, Mammot ski jump. The crowds are cheering and hope for him to do the best. What they cannot see from distance is that he is not using skis, he has two planks of flooring attached to his feet. He has no helmet, but a bucket from the builders store on his head and instead of googles, he was issued with paper toy glasses one can get when buying a Happy Meal set in McDonald’s…

The healthworkers are annoyed with the fact, that the same government, who just recently hounded them in TVP and tried to set the public against them when they went on strike demanding better funding for the Polish healthcare, now begs them to give the most in the face of the disaster.

That head on crash with reality can be sometimes hurtful for PiS politicians. Bernardeta Krynicka, who after failure to be re-elected started a job as a manager in a hospital, that has now been designated to become one of the corona virus treatment centres published a movie on her Facebook page, in which she reports how tragically unprepared for the task her hospital is. The government’s response was very swift: they suspended Krynicka’s membership in PiS.

The local councillors are still trying to push their agenda. In Wrocław, a group of PiS councillors fighting against introducing bus lanes across the town, doubled their efforts and demanded for existing bus lanes to be suspended for the time of the coronavirus – they argue safety, but it is of course completely rubbish – not only suspending bus lanes will result in public transport passengers having to stay much longer in crowded buses, but it will also highly reduce mobility of the ambulances across the town.

The citizens

General population responded to the containment measures pretty well. After initial panic buy frenzy (that included builder’s markets as well, as many Poles decided to use this time to refurbish their homes), people are generally staying at home whenever possible and, in general, observe the limitations when out. Many people offered to do shopping for their elderly neighbours, and numerous restaurants across the country offered free food for doctors and other healthcare workers. Some Taxi corporations offered free rides to medical professionals as well. Such efforts are being coordinates by Wielka Orkiestra Świątecznej Pomocy.

It seems that despite difficult situation in the health service and expected economical crisis, Poles are in good spirits.

The church

The church in Poland is a completely different story. Just after the Italy announced that all masses are to be cancelled, the right wing publicists started accusing Italian Catholics of “betraying Christ”. They argued that if you don’t have faith in God to protect you from the epidemics, you don’t have faith at all. Lucky for them, the episcopate shares their opinion. Its spokesman said that “it is unimaginable that Poles won’t pray in churches”. Of course there will be special measures taken – they will sing a suplication “God, protect us from bad air, hunger, fire and war”. Archbishop Wacław Depo pointed out, that corona virus is just one of many dangers and compared it to ”gender ideology” – as the Church calls gay rights activism.

Of course, there were some measures: after the government ban on gathering of more than 50 people, the church organized more masses. After a minister dispensing communion tested positive, there were calls that faithful taking communion should take the wafer into their hand, not straight into their mouths, although this move was criticized. One of the other archbishops called for his flock to ignore it, saying that one cannot get infected by taking communion into ones’ mouth or using Holy Water. According to him Jesus protects people from viruses. Apparently he mixed Jesus with Domestos.

During the special mass organized in the biggest Polish church, the safety measures have been completely ignored. But, interestingly, the meeting of the Polish Episcopate Conference has been cancelled.

Meanwhile the actions of the regular priests vary. Some show complete disregard to the safety precautions – like the priests, who burst without knocking into the room full of women who just gave birth. Others try to fight the spread of the virus by spreading holy water across the town. Some do it on foot, some use vehicles to speed up the process and some thing big and just fly a plane over the city.

If it works, then we are safe. If it’s not, it’s worth to remember that people have cleared supermarket shelves off pasta, so there is always some hope that Flying Spahgetti Monster steps in where Jesus failed.

As per evening of 17th of March, there has been 5 deaths and 221 officially reported coronavirus case, although the latter number is estimated to be extremely underestimated due to very limited number of tests available.

This piece was written for Britské Listy
Picture: US Army (Public Domain)



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