Thirteen of the seventeen members of the Polish government’s medical council, which advises on Covid policy, have resigned in protest against a lack of action in response to the pandemic.
In a statement to the Polish Press Agency (PAP), the resigning members – who are all leading doctors and scientists – expressed their frustration at the “lack of impact of the[ir] recommendations” and at the “growing tolerance” for Covid deniers and anti-vaccine sentiment in the government’s ranks.
“The discrepancy between scientific and medical rationales and [what is happening in] practice has become especially glaring in the context of the very limited efforts [made] in the face of the autumn wave, and then towards the threat of the Omicron variant, despite the enormous number of deaths expected,” they wrote.
Opposition MPs unfurled a banner mourning Poland passing 100,000 Covid deaths and accusing the government of being responsible for the scale of the tragedy.
Figures from the ruling party criticised their opponents for “politicising the deaths of Poles” https://t.co/050pMSJ0ug
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) January 13, 2022
When infections rose rapidly between October and December last year, the government long avoided introducing restrictions. In late November, the health minister claimed that “restrictions are not a very effective means of limiting the growth of the pandemic”.
Subsequently some measures – such as restrictions in capacity at hospitality, cultural and retail venues – were introduced. However, many experts have argued that the steps do not go far enough, and that they are in any case poorly enforced and easily evaded.
In their statement, the 13 resigning members of the council noted that, “with the passage of time we have observed with increasing frustration the lack of political possibilities to introduce optimal and proven solutions to fight the pandemic”.
Recent weeks have also seen controversy over the government’s attitude towards Covid sceptics and opponents of vaccination. It has struggled to push through a law allowing employers to check their workers’ vaccination status, which has been opposed by some MPs within the ruling camp.
Last week, a provincial school superintendent described vaccines as an “experiment”. Though her remarks were condemned by the education minister, he has refused to fire her despite calls to do so from the health minister and the medical council.
“We have observed growing tolerance towards the behaviour of groups denying the threat of COVID-19 and the significance of vaccines in the fight against the pandemic, which was also reflected in the statements of members of the government and state officials,” wrote the resigning council members today.
They warned that, with the “impending failure of the healthcare system” to deal with the Omicron surge, it is imperative to urgently increase vaccination coverage”. Currently around 57% of Poles are fully vaccinated, compared to a figure of 70% across the European Union as a whole.
The medical council was created by the prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, in November 2020 and tasked with ongoing analysis and assessment of the pandemic, preparing proposals for actions in response, and giving opinions on legal acts.
At the time, Morawiecki hailed the council as containing “the best of the best, the greatest minds that Polish medicine has to offer”. The council is chaired by Andrzej Horban, who is not among those who resigned today.
“The world doesn’t end with those 13 people. We have other doctors.” A PiS MP, asked about the protest resignation of the majority of the government’s council advising the PM on the pandemic. https://t.co/9on5qOQQHS
— Ben Stanley (@BDStanley) January 14, 2022
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.