Surrealist and Tragic State of Polish Fight with COVID-19

Kancelaria Sejmu/Łukasz Błasikiewicz via flickr // CC 2.0

I keep hearing news about yet another ambulance with COVID-19 patients driving around between hospitals looking for beds, the lack of a basic coordination system for allocating patients to hospitals, and I really have the impression that Poles live in some surreal, tragic reality. What has the Polish state done for over half a year to prepare the health service for a lasting and long-term fight against COVID-19?

In spring, a huge part of the economy and citizens faced a three-month lockdown. This triggered an unfathomable economic crisis, followed by an extensive, complicated, and costly rescue program for companies developed by thousands of officials involved. The plan entailed, for example, giving away PLN 5,000 to every micro-company in the country.

Moreover, substantial police and sanitary-epidemiological forces were engaged to oversee people who had been quarantined, to prosecute those who violated the newly passed pandemic-related laws. And it baffles me that in the 21st century, with all its advanced computerization, it still was not possible to create a central, effective system for managing hospital beds for COVID-19 patients. A task that would seem to should have been one of the key priorities for the state in the current situation.

The Gazeta Wyborcza daily and other media outlets report that Remdesivir – one of the few drugs that is effective in treating the COVID-19 infection, is in short supply. This has been confirmed by the Deputy Health Minister. Unsurprisingly, he chooses to blame the European Union.

Every day, one can find on social media more reports of patients suspected to have COVID-19, who go on for many days being sent from one hospital ward to another, or unable to get a straight answer from the State Sanitary Inspectorate (SSI) in the hope of being able to take a test and receive a recommendation on what to do next. People who are simply left with no assistance. Why are the tests still not widely available? Why can’t doctors quickly refer the patients to take them?

The fiscal gap for this year is forecasted to increase from zero to almost PLN 110 billion. Moreover, this amount does not include the anti-crisis shield proposed by the Polish Development Fund (worth PLN 100 billion), which is not even included in the budget. Altogether, this situation cost the state budget – hence, all Polish citizens – PLN 210 billion. Some journalists, including Piotr Maczynski from Gazeta Wyborcza, argue that the gap will be even bigger, reaching PLN 300 billion.

Although this amount is not a sole result of the lockdown, shutting down the economy and citizens in their home was one of the contributing factors. The Polish state has spent a fortune and has achieved nothing in fighting the coronavirus – the pandemic is still booming.

The health-care budget for 2020 was estimated at the level of PLN 100 billion. How much more effective could the healthcare be in terms of saving people’s lives if instead of supporting struggling companies, we invested these funds in developing treatment options?

Are the government’s priorities set well? Healthcare capacity will be the key to saving lives in the coming years, and it is linked directly to its financing possibilities. The former minister, Lukasz Szumowski should go down in history as one of the worst possible administrators of the Ministry of Health at such a crucial moment. Adam Niedzielski, the current minister, seems to be more sensible, but will he be able to change anything? However, his proposed shift toward restrictions and punishment suggested during a recent press conference sounded a bit like “I have no other solutions”, so the state might as well use the police.

At the same time, is the opposition keeping track of the government’s lack of administrative preparation? Does anyone have any real proposal for the functioning of the state in these conditions? No, what we hear is complaining that the country should re-introduce some restrictions or reduce resources to finance defense activities.

I am sick of listening to these two loud crazy camps. One that still spreads fear that we are all about to die, that we should give up on our personal and professional lives, and lock ourselves at home, that nothing else – including all other diseases and their treatment – counts, because COVID-19 is the only thing we should care about. On the other hand, there are some magicians in this camp who believe that lockdown will make the virus disappear and that we should reintroduce it no matter any potential tragic consequences – for culture, education, social and economic life.

On the other hand, the second, even more absurd camp, claims that the virus is a plot concocted by Bill Gates, that it is not real, fake, that vaccines are harmful, and that masks violate their freedom – along with other nonsense of this kind.

In all this, where is any rational approach to the issue at hand? Where is the “camp” of reasonable people? Why are there so few of you/us in the media space?

Yes, the virus does exist and it is dangerous, but this does not mean that nothing else matters. Indeed, journalist Jacek Palasinski recently listed politicians who got infected, proving that the virus is not a hoax, and of course it is not. Johnson, Bolsonaro, Pieskow, Lukashenko, Prince Albert II, Pedro Sanchez, Zoran Zaev, Masoumeh Ebtekar, Trump, Bodnar, Czarnek, Dunin, Zgorzelski – and the list goes on. How come so many politicians got infected? Because COVID-19 is a real threat. However, none of them have died so far. Why? First, because the virus is not as deadly as it was presented to us, and secondly, because they probably had good access to health care.

So what is a good answer to a pandemic? Consistent investment in health care, expanding the extent and scale of treatment. Instead, around the world, governments sink money into lockdowns, struggling companies , and thus limiting the chances for long-term financing of health case and other public services. If the health care continues to fail or be badly organized, with no strategies to protect the most vulnerable (including supporting nursing homes, etc.), people will continue to die.

Instead of building an “army” to win a long tier war, we locked ourselves naively in the basement, financing our stay in it, believing that the enemy behind the gates would disappear. Unfortunately, it looks like it is not going to go away. And this war will be won by those countries that set their priorities straight and that are well prepared and rich enough to withstand the fight against the coronavirus.

The article was originally published at:

Translated by Olga Łabendowicz

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