COVID-19 in Poland (week 1): just the facts
Poland recorded its first case of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) last week and since then the country has been abuzz with a tangle of information. We took a step back to unpack the developing story in one clear piece of analysis, covering everything from the government’s response, the community’s reaction to the current economic outlook. This is what we know so far (updates to come).
How many cases have been recorded and where are they located?
As of the morning of 12 March, there have been 44 confirmed cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Poland. The cases are scattered all over the country and the people diagnosed range from children to the elderly. Currently, the cases are located in the following voivodeships:
Śląskie – 11 cases in total with five in Racibórz, three in Cieszyn, one in Chorzów, one in Sosnowiec and one in Zawiercie; Warmińsko-mazurskie – four cases in Ostróda; Dolnośląskie – seven cases in total with six in Wrocław and one in Oleśnica; Mazowieckie – six cases, including five Warsaw; Lubelskie – six cases in total with five in Lublin and one in Bełżyce; Zachodniopomorskie – two cases in Szczecin; Wielkopolskie – two cases in Poznań; Łódzkie – two cases in total, including one in Łódź; Lubuskie – one case in Zielona Góra; Małopolskie – one case in Kraków; Opolskie – one case in Opole; Podkarpackie – one case in Łańcut.
12 March, Łukasz Szumowski, the Minister of Health, said on TVN24: “Probably in a week, we will reach the same number of infected as in other countries, up to a thousand, hopefully less.” He also said that testing has been expanded to cover people who have been in contact with confirmed patients.
What measures have the authorities put in place?
09 March, sanitary controls have been implemented. Since Monday, four health checkpoints have been installed at the Polish-German border (Zgorzelec, Świecko, Kołbaskowo and Olszyn) and one at the Polish-Czech border (Gorzyczki) where all train and bus passengers are to have their temperatures measured and fill out documents that will allow them to be found in case one of the passengers were to be diagnosed. On Tuesday, these health checks increased to Polish-Ukrainian, Polish-Russian and Polish-Belarus borders.
10 March, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced the closing of all schools, universities and preschools for a period of two weeks. Cinemas, theatres and museums will also be closed for two weeks and many large events, such as concerts and film premieres, have been cancelled. Football matches will still be played but without an audience.
10 March, the spread of the coronavirus and the precautions being taken are taking a toll on various industries, such as tourism, and on small businesses. Development Minister Jadwiga Emilewicz announced on Tuesday evening a package of protective measures for Polish businesses, mainly to shore up liquidity – they are expected to be enacted through a series of special legislative acts by early next week. The provisions include: allowing companies to defer tax payments (e.g. PIT and VAT) and deduct expenditures incurred in 2020 on 2019 tax returns, providing grants and low-interest loans and extending filing deadlines.
10 March, candidates of the upcoming Polish presidential election have cancelled their conventions and switched to only campaigning online. At this stage, the election is still due to be held on 10 May.
How has the market responded?
11 March, trading on Wednesday morning had settled down after the tumult on Monday where the Warsaw Stock Exchange’s main index, the WIG20, had dropped by 8%. But by lunchtime, the picture had changed dramatically on the back of the government’s announcement to increase quarantine measures. By the close of trade, the WIG20 had dropped by 5.87%, reducing the index to its lowest level since March 2009.
What are the economists saying?
9 March, mBank Research dropped its 2020 GDP growth forecast to 1.6%, down from its previous rate of 2.8%. The economists also revised their inflation estimate to 3.2%.
9 March, Rafał Benecki, Chief Economist at ING Bank Śląski, told the newspaper Rzeczpospolita that the bank now estimates that growth for 2020 would drop by 0.5-1%.
10 March, in a press conference held at the Ministry of Development (Ministerstwo Rozwoju), Minister Jadwiga Emilewicz underlined that it was difficult to provide firm estimates at this stage as there are still many unknowns around the economic impact of the epidemic. She said that only a few days prior the ministry had estimated a small drop of around 0.2-0.3 percentage points, but now the estimates point to a decrease of 0.5-1.3 percentage points. “This does not mean a recession and crisis,” she said. “It means that our economy is still growing rapidly, at a rate of about 2% per year.”
What have been the main sectors affected?
6 March, in an emergency meeting held at the Ministry of Infrastructure, the president of the Association of International Road Transport Carriers in Poland (Zrzeszenie Międzynarodowych Przewoźników Drogowych: ZMPD), Jan Buczek, estimated that road freight had dropped by 30% and passenger traffic by as much as 97%. “We are waiting for a comprehensive offer of help from the government, which is especially important for the smallest entities,” said Buczek.
8 March, like the world over, the local tourism and hospitality industry has been particularly hampered by the outbreak. The Chamber of Commerce of the Polish Hotel Industry (Izba Gospodarcza Hotelarstwa Polskiego: IGHP) announced the results of a survey conducted with 400 hotels in the first week of March. Nearly a third of respondents reported that more than half of bookings had been cancelled since January. Based on the cancellation rates reported, total industry revenue is expected to drop by 30% in March. As a result, a crisis meeting was held on Monday at the Ministry of Development where stakeholders and various ministers discussed an emergency response, culminating in the establishment of a special industry task force.
8 March, Development Minister Emilewicz said on Sunday that the government is developing packages to target specifically SMEs and companies in the transport industry, which has been particularly affected. However, she also pointed out that certain sectors may actually see some benefits out of the crisis, such as e-commerce, streaming services, the video game industry centred around digital exports and the automotive parts and components sector as German automotive companies look for local EU suppliers to cover supply chain disruptions arising from Asia.
How has the community reacted?
Up until Tuesday, 10 March, Poland had not experienced the same amount of panic as in other countries, largely due to the relatively low number of confirmed cases. In a survey conducted by IBRiS at the end of February, to the question of whether or not they were afraid of catching the virus, only 2.7% of Poles were sure they would contract the virus and 17.4% thought that it was possible, while 41.4% thought they would probably not be affected. In the same survey, 52.5 % claimed they were happy with the government’s response to the epidemic and only 12.6% said they were not.
10 March, according to sales data collected by Nielsen, in the week of 24 February-1 March, there was a recorded rise of 17% in the sale of groceries, cosmetics and household items. Poles had purchased 65% more pasta, 84% more flour and 95% more rice over the period. Additionally, soap, hand sanitisers and toilet paper have been bought more frequently.
11 March, shops and supermarkets experienced a surge in the sale of long-life goods after the government announced the closure of schools earlier in the day.