Poland today reported its highest daily number of new coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, as the country continues to show no sign of a reduction in new infections, in contrast to most European Union member states.

Today’s figure, announced by the health ministry, was 576, more than the previous high of 556 on 12 May. However, of the new cases, around 60% were recorded among workers at a single coal mine in Silesia, the province that has become the epicentre of infections.

The mine in question is Zofiówka in the city of Jastrzębie-Zdrój, at the heart of Poland’s southern coal region. With 351 new cases reported there today, the mine has now recorded 1,135 cases.

Overall, there are 2,700 reported infections from all the mines run by local coal mining company, Jastrzębska Spółka Węglowa (JSW), which employs around 22,000 people, reports RMF24.

In total, over 4,800 miners from three coal companies – JSW, Polska Grupa Górnicza (PGG) and Węglokoks Kraj – have been infected with coronavirus. That represents almost one fifth of all Poland’s confirmed cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

Although Poland continues to have a low rate of coronavirus infections and deaths by European standards, it is also one of the few countries that has not noted a decline in new and active cases of the virus.

Last month, the director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Andrea Ammon, identified Poland as the only EU state not yet to pass the peak of the virus. Poland’s own health minister, Łukasz Szumowski, has also warned that Poland’s peak may still be some way off.

Szumowski attributes this to the fact that Poland has taken a different approach to other countries. It introduced some of the earliest and toughest lockdown measures. This meant that “we avoided a drastic number of patients at once, but we shifted the peak forward in time,” said Szumowski.

However, the health minister has also noted that, were it not for the outbreaks of the virus in Silesia, then Poland’s infection rate would be falling.

The situation has raised questions as to why a number of mines remain open, especially as many other businesses in Poland have been shut down. Szumowski has responded by saying that “mines cannot be entirely halted”. Poland relies on coal for generating around 80% of its power, the highest figure in the EU.

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In response to the outbreak in Polish mines, state-owned PGG – which is the biggest producer of hard coal in the European Union – has launched a testing drive among its employees. 

It is this mass screening in Silesia appears to account for much of the rise in reported new infections. The overall number of patients hospitalised with the virus in Poland has in fact fallen, from a peak of around 2,700 in mid-May to around 2,100 presently.

The government insists that the epidemic is under control. While announcing the latest round of measures to “unfreeze” lockdown restrictions last week, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that the aim had always been “to shift the wave of infections so that there was not a shortage of respirators and [hospital] beds”.

Speaking alongside him, Szumowski noted that 80% of emergency beds for coronavirus cases and 90% of respirators are currently unused. The interior minister, Mariusz Kamiński, said that the government’s “brave decisions saved Poland from the cataclysm we saw in Western Europe”.

Main image credit: Adam Guz/KPRM/Flickr (under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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