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In several European countries, isolated cases were observed in the first days of the epidemic. In its initial stages, the epidemic did not get widely dispersed like in China till the virus was detected in the USA.
At the time when the Polish authorities made the decision to „close the state”, there were lesser cases compared to other countries. For instance, Japan introduced a ban on school classes in late February, when it already had over 800 cases of the disease. The Czech Republic, on the other hand, closed its borders when 120 cases of the disease were found, which is almost twice as many as Poland at that time. Comparisons to others have been and are still taking place in different dimensions, for example in terms of the number of tests performed in relation to the number of positive results. Various epidemiological forecasts were analyzed on an ongoing basis. Also the most drastic ones, for example the forecast that 60% of the population might get infected, which may result with 700,000 deaths in Poland over the years.
Currently, i.e. at the end of August, over 62,000 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Poland. Serious problems will begin when this number exceeds 100,000. Meanwhile government I s doing its best to prepare infectious diseases hospitals or preparing brochures how to get recovered at home if it mild. This is what the strategy of flattening the wave of disease is based on – so that many cases do not end up in Polish hospitals at once, as the case in Italy. This is to avoid dramatic decisions, such as prioritizing access to respirators according to age once it shall be reminded that Poland has the capacity around 6,000 very severe cases at once.
In one of the interviews, Łukasz Szumowski (the Minister of Health) argued that the health care system is „efficient” for about a dozen thousand patients infected with the virus. Nevertheles, government has taken the decision decision to transform additional hospitals into infectious diseases hospitals, one or two for each province. At the peak of the first wave of coronavirus, there were 19 such facilities. If the second wave turns out to be larger, there may be need for more such facilities.
These are the two main methods of fighting the virus. First one is to interrupt transmission (closing schools, changing the structure of hospitals or limiting the work of offices) and the second one is quick diagnosis. Both have different approach. Experts emphasize so far that the tests in Poland were carried out faster than in Italy at a similar stage. Until now, they are based on the WHO recommendation – targeted testing. But they also started targeting people in quarantine. For example, one of the infected people in Warsaw had 800 contacts.
The coronavirus pandemic has significantly increased the demand for electronic services globally as well as in Poland. During the pandemic, the Ministry of Health also urgently introduced several new electronic solutions in cooperation with technology companies. Online stores record a several dozen or even several hundred percent increase in sales, and the valuations of companies providing remote work tools are breaking records. The interest in new technologies in health care and telemedicine services is also growing significantly.
Łukasz Szunowski said in one of his interview ,,Electronic tools introduced in recent years and months have proven themselves during the pandemic and are used on a large scale. E-prescriptions which became obligatory in most cases at the beginning of the year, already account for over 95% of all prescriptions. The April survey by the ARC Rynek i Opinia institute shows that Poles do not have any difficulties with their implementation, 84% of respondents assess them positively. During the pandemic, the use of telepaths in primary health care (POZ) also increased sharply”. Interestingly, at the end of August, he had resigned with his deputy.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 is set to end almost three decades of uninterrupted economic growth in Poland. This is the conclusion of the latest economic forecasts presented by the European Commission. GDP on the Vistula River in 2020 will decline due to „disruption of economic activity caused by measures introduced in the wake of the pandemic and an unprecedented decline in external demand”. On the other hand, the positive information in the forecast concerns Polish international trade. The data confirms that the Polish economy faces similar challenges to other economies in the region but its fiscal situation is slightly better. This is mainly due to the diversification of supplies and competitiveness which makes the Polish economy more resilient. Also, Poland’s debt-to-GDP ratio is one of the lowest in the EU. The government can therefore respond to the crisis, thanks to its budgetary space.
It is true that falling demand and disruptions, including trade disruptions, will translate into a decline in exports and imports in 2020, but due to the structure of Polish exports and competitiveness, the European Commission predicts that the trade balance will remain essentially unchanged. It has been projected that there will be nn increase in exports and an improvement in the trade balance in 2021.
The scale of the increase in the unemployment rate in Poland is moderate at the moment. The number of unemployed does not increase significantly. However, fewer people are employed. As experts admit – data may be distorted by the „solidarity allowance”, which is paid in Poland without the need to register with employment offices by the unemployed. Therefore, it is likely that we will be able to see higher unemployment in the second half of 2020, when these elements of the „Shield” will cease to function. So far, around 3.3 million employees have benefited from it. Of course, layoffs are still in place; it is clear that by the end of the third quarter they will exceed the number of half a million employees.
EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said recently at a press conference in Brussel that “…the coronavirus has drastically changed the outlook for the European and world economy. (...) It is quite clear that the EU has entered the deepest economic recession in its history”.
„The Polish economy will shrink the least of all European Union economies in 2020” – said Piotr Szpunar, director of the Economic Analysis Department of the National Bank of Poland. He pointed to its strong foundations, favorable structure and quick response to the pandemic. He also pointed to the favorable structure of the Polish economy. – „One can say that tourism has a low share of gross value added (...), which significantly distinguishes us from other economies. This is important because this sector has been particularly affected by the pandemic restrictions”. He also talked about a lower share in the added value of those industries that were also strongly affected by the pandemic, such as the automotive industry. He also pointed to the strong ties between the Polish economy and the German economy, which – at least it seems – copes with the pandemic much better than other European countries.
Economic growth is also expected to recover in 2021. The Polish economy is then expected to grow by 4.1% thanks to a strong revival in household consumption. According to EU experts, however, it is unlikely that Poland’s GDP will return in 2021 to its 2019 levels.
World Bank assesses „Poland may benefit from reshuffles within the global network of supply chains,”. Abroad, the coronavirus paralyzed production, which, paradoxically, can benefit Polish plants.
However, for saving the economy with debt, that is, for a loan, you will unfortunately have to pay in the future. The inevitable increase in the deficit and public debt will require „an increase in taxes and public levies and an expansion of the catalog of financial restrictions”. The specter of bankruptcy may threaten the most companies operating in mining, electrical equipment production, energy, the automotive industry, transport-related services and civil engineering enterprises, the warehouse industry, postal and courier activities, and real estate services. Time will show how and with what costs the crisis related to the COVID-19 coronavirus affected the pioneer economy Central and Eastern Europe.
Paweł Flisiuk