Story of Success: Poland vs COVID-19

In 1989 a new chapter was written in the history of Poland – the first partially free elections were held in the country, repressive communism started to recede, and a comprehensive systemic transformation began.

Thanks to reforms over the past 30 years, Poland has become the fastest growing European country in terms of economic development, low corruption, growing military power and attractive investment environment. What is the most important for countries like Georgia is that Poland is an active lobbyist and ardent supporter of the Eastern European countries’ integration into the Euro-Atlantic space.

However, the purpose of this article is not to analyze the impressive democratic-economic transformation of the Third Republic of Poland (III Rzeczpospolita) or effective foreign policy focused on the balance of Russian imperialism. Due to the global pandemic of COVID-19 that has completely changed the world agenda, I would like to draw your attention to the systemic approach of Warsaw, thanks to which the Poles have successfully dealt with Coronavirus on both the healthcare and economic fronts.

According to the April 30 data of World Health Organization (WHO), a total of 12,781 cases of COVID-19 infection were reported in Poland with 38 millions of inhabitants  (3,236 recovered, 628 dead). Of course, the death of each human being is a great tragedy and an irreparable pain, but statistically, only 628 fatalities (75% of which were due to severe and / or chronic disease) is indicator of an effective fight against the global virus. Especially if we compare these data with the statistics of other European countries.

The first case of COVID-19 in Poland was reported on March 4 in the city of Zielona Góra. The authorities have immediately closed state borders and international airports to prevent the further spread of the virus. Definitely, it is difficult to make such a decision in the terms of the Schengen Agreement and when up to 35 million International tourists visit the country every year, but the government of Mateusz Morawiecki made this bold decision in time.

It was critically important to announce nationwide lockdown promptly and strict control over the regulations. “Stay at Home” was announced in Poland on March 10-12, and at the same time, the majority of the society immediately received information about the new regulations. Under the government’s March 31 decree, the self-isolation campaign became even more comprehensive: parks, beaches, boulevards, beauty salons, etc. were closed. Also noteworthy is the fact that schools, universities and mass gathering places have been closed since the early stages of COVID-19. Restrictions have also been imposed on churches – a maximum of 5 people and 1 clergyman can attend a religious ritual (wedding, funeral, baptism, etc.), albeit at a distance of 2 meters.

Of course, it is important to fight the virus effectively, but no less burdensome is the anti-crisis plan to combat the economic consequences of the pandemic. According to Forbes, the legacy of COVID-19 will be much heavier than the 2008 global economic crisis. That is why another front line runs through the economy.

Very soon after the crisis began, on April 1, the government of Prime Minister Morawiecki launched a program focused on saving the country’s economy –  Tarcza Antykryzysowa (“Anti-Crisis Shield”). The plan includes 5 main directions:

Financial safety of employees and protection of jobs

1. Government-paid social insurance contributions for three months, for companies employing up to nine people, self-employed individuals and freelancers. 2. One-off benefits of circa 2000 PLN gross (80% of monthly minimal wage) for self-employed and freelancers. This was estimated to affect around 2.2 million people. 3. Working permits for non-citizens are to be prolonged to 30 days after the official revoking of the state of epidemic (as of early April 2020, a formal state of emergency or state of natural disaster had not been declared), if they expire within the during the state of epidemic.

Finance of business

1. Public co-financing of employees’ salaries up to 40% of average monthly wage, if working time has been reduced up to 20%, but no less than working time for half-time position. 2. The taxpayers affected by pandemic are entitled to deduct their losses incurred in year 2020 from income obtained in 2019 providing that revenue has been diminished by more than 50%. 3. Non-repayable loans up to 5000 PLN for companies employing up to 9 people, but there cannot be any lay-offs within next 6 months. 4. Enabling legally the company credit-worthiness assessing on the basis of former year financial statement in order to extend the repayment terms of business overdrafts.5. Postponing the deadlines of withholding taxes, submitting the fiscal declarations and implementation of mandatory Employee Pension Plan (EPP, pol. Pracownicze Plany Kapitałowe, PPK)

Healthcare 

Enabling the taxpayers to deduct their donations given for counteracting the pandemic from their income.

Enhancing financial market soundness

Reducing banks’ capital buffers requirements by Financial Stability Committee.

Public investment plan

Elongated deadlines of public projects and cancellation of deadlines penalties in public tenders.

According to preliminary estimates, the budget of the anti-crisis economic program is 212 billion PLN (165 billion GEL) – 10% of the gross domestic product of Poland.

In addition to healthcare and economic challenges, Warsaw has had to deal with disinformation waves. One such case took place on March 23, when Alexei Pushkov, a former chairman of the Duma’s Foreign Relations Committee, tweeted that “Poland had closed its airspace to Russian warplanes carrying humanitarian aid to the region.” The “news” was soon disseminated by Russian propaganda, accusing Warsaw of Russophobia and universal indifference. However, the truth soon became clear – neither such a thing had been done by Poland, as the Italian La Stampa journalistJacopo Jacobini reported, nor Russian aid was humanitarian. The operation had only intelligence purposes. By the way, Pushkov deleted his post in a few days.

Poland is now on the verge of a gradual normalization of the situation. Gradually the restrictions are removed. For example, from May 4, hotels and shopping malls will beopen, and from May 6 – kindergartens. Entertainment and cultural-tourist facilities areactively considered for the revival of the economy. Also, the day is not far when Poland will open its borders, even because 115,000 Poles work in German and Czech border cities. Renewal of the already decided football championship Ekstraklasa by the end of May.

To cut a long story short, the information coming from Poland gives hope. The hope that Central and Eastern Europe will return to the usual way of life step by step, and the agenda will be determined not by Coronavirus but by political challenges.

Grigol Julukhidze

Senior Fellow

The opinions and conclusions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Tbilisi or The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland.

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