How Will Poland Emerge From COVID-19?
Early lockdown and public cooperation slow down pandemic
By Robert Strybel
WARSAW–When the coronavirus contagion was spreading in the Far East at the start of the year and soon infected Europe, Poland’s first confirmed case did not occur until March 4th. Closely monitoring foreign developments. the Polish conservative government was determined to learn from the mistakes of other nations and stay ahead of the game.
Ten days later, after Poland’s first COVID-19 death was reported, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki lost no time closing the country down. Public gatherings were banned, and all schools, theaters, museums, shopping centers and other such faculties were shut down. Poland’s borders were closed to foreigners, and Poles returning home from stays abroad. had to undergo a two-week quarantine.
The early official response to the pandemic and the largely disciplined way the Polish population adhered to the restrictions helped keep the infection and death toll relatively low. At the start of April, 36 people had died of the pandemic in Poland, whereas the death toll in much smaller countries like Holland and Switzerland ranged between 1,173 and 461 respectively.
But the very measures adopted to curb the pandemic have adversely affected the economy. Some Poles were able to work at home but many more got laid off under the shutdown, and. most businesses were temporarily idled. The results was a , derailed economy and widespread uncertainty as to where it will all lead.
In 2019, Poland scored four percent GDP growth, one of Europe’s highest. Optimists felt that even if it dropped to 1-2 percent growth in 2020, the country would not fall into the minus-sign zone, But pessimists fear that Poland is in for its biggest recession since it dumped communism in 1989. Even if Poland itself avoids a recession, they argue, the economic woes of its main trading partner Germany are sure to adversely affect its post-pandemic recovery.
The Polish government’s over $50 billion aid and incentive package is meant to save jobs and prevent bankruptcies. An employee who loses his source of income will be remunerated for 40 percent of the loss, and employers who refrain from laying off workers are being temporarily exempted from social-security contributions and other obligations. But those are temporary measures meant to tide people over the initial stages of the economic crunch. But will that bailout work and how long can it last? – are questions being asked these days by many a Pole.
The new plague is expected to affect not onły the economic realm. Since school instruction and university lectures went online during the crisis, some Poles wondered whether traditional school buildings and college campuses are really needed. The many Poles who were able to work online from home raised the question as to how economical is the maintenance of large and costly office buildings.
Long before the coronavirus struck, e-business had been plugging their “without leaving home” propaganda which became reality under the lockdown. The question arises: will Poland’s café, club, cinema and overall “going-out” culture as well as social meetups with family and friends rebound when the restrictions are lifted? Or will online concerts, movies and other entertainment become the norm? Will text messages, emails, skype and phone calls replace the personal touch?
Not everybody thinks that’s a bad thing. One of the many coronavirus anecdotes said that computer nerds thought they were in paradise when the pandemic struck. People had to stay indoors, sports were canceled and human interaction was prohibited. To a dyed-in-the-wool geek it doesn’t get any better than that!
The COVID-19 episode already appears to have accelerated the e-gadgetarian revolution. Polish shoppers were urged to use their smartphones rather than pay with cash or even credit cards which could spread the contagion. Some younger ultra-high-tech types actually want to get micro-chipped so they can pay by just waving their hand over the terminal. But do they really want to be under constant e-surveillance by the powers that be?