WARSAW — Thirteen out of 17 members of Poland’s Medical Council resigned on Friday, protesting that the country’s right-wing government had ignored their advice on how to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
In a scathing statement, the signatories led by Robert Flisiak, president of the Polish Association of Epidemiologists, complained that their recommendations had had “no impact” in terms of action against the pandemic.
At the same time, they accused the Law and Justice Party (PiS)-led government of pandering to COVID-19 deniers and vaccine skeptics in a country that recently reported its 100,000th death from coronavirus – the one of the highest pandemic rates in Europe relative to population size.
“We have been repeatedly accused of having insufficient influence over the actions of the government. At the same time, we have observed the growing tolerance of denying the threat posed by COVID-19 and the importance of vaccination in the fight against the pandemic – which has also been reflected in statements by members of government and state officials,” the scientists wrote. in a statement released to the official PAP news agency.
The Polish government has long been accused of inaction: only 57% of residents have been fully vaccinated, compared to a European average of 69%; basic measures like wearing masks indoors are poorly enforced; and the government has not introduced COVID-19 passports to access public places widely used in other European countries.
More recently, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said another year of rising infections was an “anomaly” and ruled out further measures to contain the pandemic, even as the highly contagious new Omicron variant of coronavirus was breaking case records in countries like the UK. and Denmark.
An international team of scientists warned last weekend that as many as 20 million Poles – more than half the population – could catch Omicron this winter.
And, despite data indicating that Omicron causes milder disease, the ease with which it is transmitted and low vaccination rates could overwhelm Polish hospitals and add a shocking 19,000 deaths between January 20 and February 11, the group Modeling Coronavirus Spread (MOCOS) predicted on Twitter.
“The disconnect between scientific and medical reasoning and practice has become particularly glaring in the context of very limited action in the face of the fall wave and then in the face of the threat of the Omicron variant, despite the enormous number of deaths expected. ,” the outgoing members of the Medical Council said in their statement, which was widely picked up by Polish media.
In response, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s government said in a statement that the Medical Council had provided “substantial support” to the government and its crisis management team, while decisions were made on the basis of broad consultation. consultation.
“It is the government’s role to make decisions based on the different positions of experts – the Medical Council, economists, experts from other areas affected by the outbreak,” the government statement added.
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