The Polish government’s spokesman, Piotr Müller, has apologised after the prime minister violated social-distancing rules. Müller says that the incident was the fault of the prime minister’s staff for not properly informing him of legal requirements.
Last week, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki tweeted photos of himself sitting down to a plate of pierogi with three colleagues. The post was part of an effort to advertise the government’s support for businesses and the fact that food outlets were allowed to reopen last week. Morawiecki encouraged the public to “make the most of your favourite local restaurants”.
„Dzięki Tarczy możemy tutaj siedzieć i patrzeć spokojnie w przyszłość” – usłyszałem od właścicieli restauracji. Gastronomia to ważna dziedzina gospodarki i infrastuktura społeczna, wzmacniająca więzi między ludźmi. Korzystajcie ze swoich ulubionych, lokalnych restauracji. 😉🥟☕️ pic.twitter.com/7bfbam3wIv
— Mateusz Morawiecki (@MorawieckiM) May 22, 2020
It was quickly pointed out, however, that the prime minister had not been abiding by the government’s own guidelines on social distancing. These advise people who are not from the same family or household to not sit opposite one another in restaurants and to remain 1.5 metres apart. Morawiecki’s lunch colleagues were not from his family or household.
When asked about the blunder over the weekend, Morawiecki responded by saying that “distancing is recommended but not mandatory, and that’s how we approached it”. However, Onet, a news website, points out that, according to a law passed in March, “all persons residing in Poland are obliged to comply with the recommendations” of the Chief Sanitary Inspectorate (GIS), which include the restaurant distancing guidelines.
On Monday, government spokesman Piotr Müller apologised for the incident, but said that it had not been the prime minister’s fault. When new rules for reopening restaurants were initially discussed at a ministerial meeting, they were intended as “soft” recommendations. Only later, unknown to the prime minister, were they accepted as official guidelines from GIS.
“The prime minister was poorly informed by his office,” Müller told broadcaster TVN24. “Due to our error he was not aware that this recommendation is compulsory under sanitary regulations. And for this, on behalf of the prime minister’s office, I would like to apologise.”
Yet Borys Budka, leader of the main opposition party, Civic Platform (PO), hit out at the prime minister for “not knowing how to maintain distancing”. Budka also described the whole event as a “crass photo opportunity”, pointing to the lack of cutlery on the table.
Meanwhile, Leszek Balcerowicz, a former finance minister and opponent of the current government, said that the incident was “the continuation of behaviours which show contempt for normal people,” reports Wirtualna Polska. .
Last month, leading politicians, including Morawiecki, were accused of violating the government’s own restrictions on public gatherings while commemorating the Smolensk plane crash anniversary. The police, however, explained that they were exempted from requirements while carrying out official functions.
Later the same day, the leader of the ruling party, Jarosław Kaczyński, visited his mother’s grave despite the cemetery being closed to the public during lockdown. The incident has come back into focus recently after a song condemning Kaczyński’s behaviour, called “Your pain is better than mine”, was allegedly censored by public radio.
Others have also pointed out that, over the weekend, anti-government protesters in Warsaw were issued fines by police for violating social-distancing rules whereas, on the same day, President Andrzej Duda held an event at which people gathered in similarly close proximity with no police intervention.
Speaking today with Tok FM, health minister Łukasz Szumowski said that “officials do not have special privileges”. He conceded that the prime minister “should have kept a little bit of a larger distance” from his colleagues. Szumowski also advised those who organise meetings for presidential election candidates, be they Duda or opposition figures, to prevent people getting “too close” to one another.
Z cyklu są równi i równiejsi. Na 1 zdjęciu spotkanie z Andrzejem Dudą, a na 2 #StrajkPrzedsiębiorców, który został ponownie uznany za nielegalny i spacyfikowany przez policję. pic.twitter.com/3gSyenfYmU
— Partia KORWiN (@Partia_KORWiN) May 23, 2020
Main image credits: Adam Guz/KPRM/Mateusz Morawiecki/Twitter