COVID-19 in Poland (week 4): just the facts
In this week’s special COVID-19 in Poland news package, we present a complete rundown of the government’s new restrictions and economic stimulus package, new maps and charts, the latest economic analysis, a market update, business news and a snapshot of community sentiment – including how a 96-year-old Polish great-grandmother is helping out the cause.
How many cases have been recorded and where are they located?
As of the morning of 2 April, there have been 2554 confirmed cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Poland. 43 of which were fatal. Currently, the cases are located in the following voivodeships:
Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Poland as per Rzeczpospolita (rp.pl)
Latest economic analysis
Wednesday, 01 April: Santander Bank Polska has slightly veered away from the general consensus among economists and taken a more optimistic position on Poland’s growth outlook for 2020. In their latest report released on Wednesday evening, the economists presented two scenarios. If the restrictions on economic activity can be lifted by early June, they forecast Poland’s GDP to shrink by 1% in 2020 before increasing by 5% in 2021. But if the economic handbrake will remain in place after June, then they predict a decline of 2.5% this year and a rebound of 2.2% in 2021.
Wednesday, 01 April: The newspaper Rzeczpospolita released the results of a survey it conducted with 25 economists in Poland and the average consensus was that GDP would fall by 2.6% in 2020 – although the economists underlined two caveats. The forecast is contingent on trading restrictions being released by June. A question mark also hangs over the economic data for March, which is yet to be released. Still, the economists on average estimate that aggregate demand would have dropped by 2% YoY in March – for further comparison, sales increased by 7.3% in February. They also calculate that the unemployment rate would have likely increased to 5.6% in March, compared to 5.5% in February. If realised, it would be the first time the unemployment rate for March has risen above 5.5% since March 2009.
Friday, 27 March: Despite the ongoing global economic turmoil, Fitch Ratings has maintained Poland’s A- level credit rating in both local and foreign currencies. The agency predicts that the pandemic will see GDP growth drop to 1.8% in 2020 from the 3.3% it had previously forecast, before recovering to 3.2% in 2021. In its decision to hold the A- rating, Fitch Ratings cited the country’s strong macroeconomic fundamentals, relatively sound policy framework and EU membership – although it highlighted concern around the country’s lower GDP per capita and high external debt compared to other economies assigned the A rating. The agency surmised: ‘Poland should be relatively resilient to the shock from the COVID-19 pandemic compared with many rating peers, owing to its diversified yet relatively closed economy, moderate tourism sector, net energy importer status, flexible exchange rate, a current account close to balance and some degree of fiscal space to accommodate expansionary fiscal measures.’
Tuesday, 31 March: Amica, the leading Polish home appliance manufacturer, announced that it is stopping production from 1 April until 14 April. However, warehouses and logistics will operate fully. The company is focusing on e-commerce and has at least two months worth of goods in storage. Amica reported strong sales in January and February and March started out well. At this stage, Jacek Rutkowski, Chairman of the Board, told Rzeczpospolita that there are no plans to make major changes to the company’s current development strategy, although uncertainty remains over the second quarter and alterations will likely be made through the year. According to management, the company is well-positioned for any exchange rate fluctuations.
Monday, 30 March: The stopping of production in European automotive factories has already taken a toll on the production of parts and components in Poland, which make up 45% of automotive exports. This may cause many layoffs and bankruptcies in companies. According to a survey conducted by the Association of Distributors and Manufacturers of Automotive Parts (Stowarzyszenie Dystrybutorów i Producentów Części Motoryzacyjnych : SDCM), nearly three-quarters of companies in the automotive industry reported cancellations or a reduction of orders, nearly half declared an intention to reduce employment, and over four-fifths assume they will have a very large or significant drop in sales in the upcoming months. Only 19% of those surveyed said they do not intend to dismiss employees. Moreover, according to the SDCM, at the beginning of the third week of March, 93.3% of mechanics and repair shops experienced a decline in customers and nearly 95% reduced their working hours to limit costs.
Wednesday, 01 April: The local market shadowed the decline in other European markets and Wall Street to begin April with -2.01% daily change in the WIG20 – the Warsaw Stock Exchange’s main index. The government’s new restrictions announced on Tuesday and poor PMI results for Polish manufacturing (the sector dropped to 42.4 points from 48.2 points in February) managed to erase the modest gains recorded in the last sessions of March. Overall, the WIG20 decreased by 14.4% in March.
Friday, 27 March: A 96-year-old great-grandmother, Mrs Janina, pulled at the heartstrings of the nation when it was revealed last week on TVN24 that she has been sewing masks to help out frontline healthcare workers and those affected by the virus. Having always loved to sew, when she saw on TV that people are sewing masks and donating them to medical facilities, she decided to do the same. “When I look at the television and see and hear about the deaths of these people, it touches me; it just hurts me,” she told TVN24. “I thought that if there were more masks out there, more people would be able to protect themselves and that it may eventually stop.” The amount of empathy she feels for those affected by the virus urged her to take action and is now seen as a local hero in her town of Świdnica, south-western Poland. So far, she has made 40 masks.
Wednesday, 1 April: A study called “COVID-19 Fever” carried out by NEUROHM and Brad Consulting for web portal Onet aims to assess the moods of Poles during the pandemic and will continue to be carried out in the next weeks of the quarantine to track changes in opinion. Currently, 79% of those surveyed want the presidential election to be postponed, 32% judge the government’s actions negatively, 62% express worries about others, 58% try to motivate others to obey the pandemic cautionary measures, 49% are truly worried about catching the virus. Only 16% of men are worried about the limitations of spending time with their close ones, in comparison to 26% of women.
Tuesday, 24 March: Biedronka, a supermarket chain, has launched a volunteer programme to help the elderly shop during the pandemic. Both volunteers and people above the age of 65 who require assistance can join the programme by filling out a form online, by calling a 24hr helpline or by dropping a paper form in boxes located at the stores. According to Biedronka, the contact information will be passed on to local volunteers, who, in turn, will reach out to participating seniors to discuss a plan to help them with their shopping needs.
Rundown on the government’s economic stimulus package and new restrictions
Tuesday, 31 March: The Senate passed legislation enabling the government’s emergency economic stimulus package (tarcza antykryzysowa) with added amendments to the initial bill introduced to parliament earlier in the week. 73 senators voted in favour, none were against and three abstained from voting. Of the amendments adopted by the Senate, one states that there will be no advance payments of taxes or fees from businesses during an epidemic threat, an epidemic or a state of emergency. However, these taxes would have to be paid within 90 days after the end of the abovementioned emergency conditions. Another amendment brought in funding for the weekly testing of the staff of medical facilities, sanitary and epidemiological stations, pharmacies, paramedics and the employees of certain commercial facilities.
Other amendments ensure that employees of facilities where patients of COVID-19 are treated will receive 50% overtime pay, carer benefits for a guardian of a child up to the age of 12 in the event of the closing of a nursery, preschool or school and the removal of changes to the Electoral Code enabling those who are in quarantine and those who had reached the age of 60 by the day of the election to vote by correspondence.
Tuesday, 31 March: The Polish government announced new restrictions that took effect 1 April and will remain until further notice. The fines for not following these restrictions range from 5000 to 30000 zł. The new restrictions include:
Limitations on the number of customers in stores, marketplaces and post offices:
-In stores and service outlets, the total amount of people allowed is 3 people per cash register or payment station. So if a store has 5 cash registers, the maximum amount of customers allowed in at the same time is 15.
-In marketplaces, the total amount of customers allowed is 3 customers per 1 trading point. This includes fairs, booths and bazaars.
-At post offices, the total amount of people allowed is 2 people per 1 service window.
Limitations on the running of construction stores and new rules for all stores:
-Large construction stores will be closed on the weekends.
-Starting on 2 April, all stores will require each customer to shop in disposable gloves and between 10:00 am and 12:00 pm, all stores and service stations will only be open to and serve customers who are over 65 years old. At other hours, these places will be available to people of all ages, including those over 65.
-Hotels and other forms of accommodation which operate on a short-term rental basis are closed. They can only function normally in the event they house medical personnel or people who are in quarantine or isolation. All guests were required to check out by 2 April, with the exception of those who use accommodation services in order to carry out their job responsibilities.
-Suspension of rehabilitation and massage services in both public and private facilities, with the exception of situations where rehabilitation is required for the patient’s state of health.
-Closing of all hair and beauty salons as well as tattoo and piercing shops. These services will also not be allowed outside of salons, so home visits will not be allowed either.
-An automatic mandatory quarantine for people who live with an individual who is in quarantine.
-Persons under the age of 18 are forbidden to leave their homes without adult supervision.
-All people are banned from using parks, green areas, botanical and zoological gardens, beaches, boulevards, promenades and city bikes.
-A required two-metre distance between all pedestrians. The only ones excluded from this are parents with children requiring care (up to 13 years old), people with disabilities and people unable to move without a caregiver.
-Public institutions will perform their duties remotely with the exception of instances when remote work does not allow for the fulfilment of their key duties.
-From 2 April, the limitation on the number of passengers allowed on public transportation (each passenger needs to be separated by an empty seat) is extended to vehicles with more than 9 seats, including private transport.
-From 2 April, employers will have to provide additional security measures for their employees: individual work stations must be 1.5 metres apart and employees must wear gloves or have access to disinfectant.