Poland set for Omicron “tsunami”, warns PM’s chief Covid advisor

Poland will soon suffer not just another wave of the pandemic, but a “tsunami” that could see up to a million people hospitalised, says the prime minister’s chief COVID-19 advisor, Andrzej Horban. There may be “no choice but to introduce a hard lockdown”.

The health minister, Adam Niedzielski, has likewise warned that, while infections have recently been declining, they are likely to accelerate again in January as Omicron becomes dominant. Up to now, only a small number of cases of the variant have been identified in Poland.

Omicron has already, however, become the dominant strain in several western European countries, including the United Kingdom, Denmark and Portugal. Its further spread will “within weeks push already stretched health systems further to the brink”, said the World Health Organisation last week.

In an interview with Rzeczpospolita just before Christmas, Horban said that the rapid spread of the new variant means that, by the end of January, “to put it bluntly, a drama like we have not seen for a long time is possible”.

Noting that more than 40% of people in Poland are not fully vaccinated, Horban said that we can assume “all of them will be infected with the new variant [and] statistically 5-10% of them will go to hospital”. That would result in around a million people being hospitalised at some stage.

“Even if that is spread over a few months, it still means we will need not 20,000 Covid beds, but 50-60,000,” warned Horban. “Not to mention where we will get the doctors from.”

Poland currently has around 20,000 people hospitalised with COVID-19, and its highest ever figure was almost 35,000. Even at those levels, the healthcare healthcare system has struggled to cope, with the country recording the EU’s highest excess mortality rate in 2020.

In a statement published last week, the interdisciplinary COVID-19 team at the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN) warned that the Omicron variant could, through hospitalisations and quarantine, “paralyse not only the healthcare system, but also other infrastructure critical to the functioning of society”.

Both the PAN experts and Horban urged unvaccinated people to get jabbed as soon as possible and vaccinated ones to get a booster. “It can increase our changes of survival before the tsunami” hits, said Horban.

If people do not get vaccinated, and the number of those infected continues to increase like in other countries – and it seems that it will – there will be no choice but to introduce a hard lockdown,” he added.

Just as Horban noted that “one wave of the pandemic is not yet over and another wave is [already] overlapping it”, so too Niedzielski told RMF FM last week that “the most likely scenario is that the fourth wave will smoothly turn into the fifth”. Both he and Horban predicted that late January will see a rapid rise in infections.

Last week, Niedzielski signed an ordinance that will require all medical staff to be fully vaccinated by 1 March. He revealed to RMF that he is now in discussions with the defence and interior ministers about doing the same for the uniformed services.

“There is a serious risk that Omicron will accelerate all aspects of the pandemic,” he said the health minister. “And everything must be done – this relates precisely to compulsory vaccination – to avoid this difficult situation.”

In an interview with Gazeta Polska on Friday, Jarosław Kaczyński, the head of the ruling party, also warned that “Omicron creates a new situation” that will necessitate “far-reaching decisions”. Above all, “we must not allow the collapse of healthcare, and with it the economy, and even the state”.

Unvaccinated make up 73% of Covid deaths in Poland since October

Main image credit: Hospital CLÍNIC/Flickr (under CC BY-ND 2.0)

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