Poland may face Easter lockdown as new Covid-19 cases hit record high

Two more ministers quit Slovak cabinet in crisis sparked by Russian vaccine row

People queue at the entrance of a Covid-19 testing lab at the Polish-German border in Slubice, western Poland. Photograph: Lech Muszynski/EPA

People queue at the entrance of a Covid-19 testing lab at the Polish-German border in Slubice, western Poland. Photograph: Lech Muszynski/EPA

 

Poland could face a second successive Easter under lockdown after its government said restrictions would need to be tightened to quell a record surge in coronavirus cases in the country.

Poland reported 29,978 new Covid-19 infections on Wednesday, its biggest such one-day rise, and a further 575 deaths from the virus, which marked a record for the year so far. The country’s hospitals are currently treating 26,511 coronavirus patients, almost 10 per cent of whom are on ventilators.

“We have to curb this third wave and that is why we are going to be introducing new restrictions,” said Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, ahead of a government announcement on tighter rules that is expected on Thursday.

The country of 38 million people, which has recorded more than 2.1 million Covid-19 cases and a death toll from the disease of 50,340, closed schools, most shops and cultural and sports venues last weekend, but the measures have not yet stemmed the spread of the virus and the highly contagious strain that was first identified in Britain late last year.

Central and eastern Europe is being severely hit by a third wave of the pandemic: Hungary, the Czech Republic, Montenegro, Serbia, Poland and Bulgaria were among the 10 countries with the highest per capita rates of new Covid-19 cases in the world on Wednesday, with Estonia in first place, according to Our World in Data.

Eight of the 10 states with the worst per capita death rates from Covid-19 were also from the region, with Hungary, the Czech Republic and Bosnia leading the grim ranking.

Strained hospitals

Hungary recorded 7,587 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday and another 249 deaths, while the country’s strained hospitals said they were treating 11,805 coronavirus patients, a record 1,423 of whom are on ventilators.

Bulgaria meanwhile confirmed 4,851 new infections – a national record – having closed shops, bars, restaurants and schools last week in a bid to slow the spread of the virus before parliamentary elections on April 4th.

The Russian embassy in Sofia said one of two diplomats expelled by Bulgaria for alleged spying this week had contracted the virus, and would not be able to comply with a demand from the Bulgarian government to return to Moscow within 72 hours.

Ukraine reported another 342 deaths from Covid-19 on Wednesday, setting a new record for daily reported deaths for the second time in two days, and 14,174 new infections.

Hospitals in central and eastern Europe are struggling to cope with the pandemic after years of underinvestment and the departure of medical staff for richer nations, and governments across the region also complain about limited access to vaccines.

Slovakia’s coalition government split this month over prime minister Igor Matovic’s purchase of a Russian Covid-19 vaccine that does not have EU approval. Amid the continued fallout from the row, the country’s foreign and education ministers stepped down on Wednesday, a day after the justice and economy ministers quit in protest at the populist premier’s refusal to resign.