In one of his first actions as Poland’s new health minister, Adam Niedzielski has updated the rules relating to coronavirus quarantine and isolation, including reducing the minimum period from 14 to 10 days.
With weddings continuing to be a hot spot for new infections, the health ministry has also announced that it is again considering tighter restrictions on such events. Meanwhile, some schools, which only reopened yesterday, have already closed after staff tested positive for the virus.
Poland has recently been experiencing record numbers of new coronavirus cases. In the last two days, death figures – of 19 and 20 – were the highest since mid-June.
The new rules
Niedzielski, who was appointed to the position a week ago following the unexpected resignation of his predecessor, has signed two ordinances that enter into force today.
Under the new rules, the period of quarantine for people who have come into contact with an infected person or who are required to self-isolate after returning from abroad (but who have not tested positive or shown symptoms) has been reduced from 14 to 10 days.
Those who have tested positive for coronavirus can also now leave isolation after 10 days (instead of the previous minimum of 14) if they have either returned two further negative tests or have been asymptomatic for at least three days (but not earlier than 13 days after the first appearance of symptoms).
Do 10 dni skrócona zostaje obowiązkowa kwarantanna po kontakcie z osobą zakażoną. Dzisiejsze rozporządzenie Rady Ministrów do 10 dni skraca natomiast kwarantannę po powrocie z zagranicy. #koronawirus
— Ministerstwo Zdrowia (@MZ_GOV_PL) September 1, 2020
“We don’t see a serious risk of patients lying to doctors”
The health ministry’s spokesman, Wojciech Andrusiewicz, explained that people isolating at home will receive a text message on their seventh day informing them to have a telephone consultation with a doctor.
That physician can then, based on the patient’s symptoms, authorise their release from isolation. Andrusiewicz emphasised that, while this can now in theory take place as early as the tenth day for asymptomatic patients, for those with symptoms the period will be extended as long as necessary.
“On the tenth day of quarantine we are automatically released,” said Andrusiewicz, quoted by TVN24. “[But] in isolation, if the doctor recommends we should stay isolated at home longer, we have to stay.”
The spokesman was asked whether there was a danger that patients could hide their symptoms from the doctor during a telephone consultation. He responded that this is a risk even with in-person consultations, at which patients can “even take antipyretic drugs” to conceal their condition.
Andrusiewicz added that experience indicates the opposite is usually true: people are concerned about the virus and looking out for symptoms, rather than trying to hide them.
“It is in all our interests not to conceal symptoms,” said the spokesman. “We do not see a serious risk here that patients will lie to their doctors in large numbers.”
In fact, making flu and COVID-19 patients visit doctors in person, thus bringing them into contact with more people, would carry a much greater risk, he added.
Znosimy tym samym obowiązek dwóch pozytywnych wyników badań w przypadku izolacji pacjentów bezobjawowych – co wyeliminuje przypadki przedłużających się pobytów w odosobnieniu. https://t.co/LJn6gxNUqk
— Adam Niedzielski (@a_niedzielski) August 27, 2020
When announcing the planned changes last week, Niedzielski – who before becoming health minister served as head of the National Health Fund (NFZ) – said that they were being “introduced in response to signals from the medical community and from patients who have been in isolation for a very long time”.
There have been a number of media reports of patients who have endured lengthy stays in isolation under the previous system, in some cases of up to 70 days.
One widely publicised case has concerned 10-year-old Małgosia from Bydgoszcz, who was isolated at home for 56 days because, despite showing no symptoms, she kept returning positive tests for the virus. She finally left isolation today and returned to school.
Such situations arose from Poland having “obsolete” rules on isolation, which have remained unchanged since March despite the World Health Organisation issuing new guidelines in June, reports Gazeta.pl.
In other European countries – such as Germany and the Czech Republic – patients who have been infected with coronavirus can be released after a set period in isolation even if they keep testing positive, writes the news website.
This is because, although traces of the virus remain in their system – and therefore show up in tests – the patients are no longer infectious. A number of doctors had issued appeals to the health ministry to update its policies on isolation, writes Gazeta.pl
Kiedy 10-letnia Małgosia wróciła z obozu artystycznego, okazało się, że jedno z dzieci jest zakażone koronawirusem. Jej test też dał wynik pozytywny i dziewczynka jest w kwarantannie. Minęło już 50 dni, a wyniki kolejnych testów wciąż są pozytywne. https://t.co/eo83BuitIM
— tvn24 (@tvn24) August 26, 2020
New wedding restrictions planned
Andruszkiewicz also announced today that the health ministry is considering reintroducing tighter restrictions on weddings – though it is waiting until parliament resumes work after the holidays.
In June, weddings were allowed to resume, with the number of guests limited to 150. Subsequently, they have become one of the biggest causes of the recent rise in coronavirus infections.
At the start of August, the health ministry said that it was seeking to introduce tougher measures for weddings. But no such action has been taken since then at the national level.
However, in areas classified by the government as yellow or red zones, based on large numbers of infections, tighter restrictions on weddings are in place. Attendance is limited to 100 people in yellow zones, and 50 in red ones.
Andruszkiewicz says that this has “brought results, because in these districts we are not recording any infections at weddings”, whereas outbreaks at weddings have continued in other parts of the country.
New restrictions on weddings could come into force within the next two weeks, reports RMF24.
Schools reopen – but some close again
Schools in Poland reopened fully yesterday for the first time since closing in March. New sanitary regulations are in place, though their precise form and implementation has been left up to schools to decide autonomously in consultation with local health authorities.
A number of parents reported long queues – some lasting up to two hours – outside schools and preschools yesterday morning as children had their temperatures taken before entering the building.
Today it emerged that some schools have already had to close due to coronavirus infections. In Unisław, a village in central Poland, hundreds of pupils were told to stay at home until at least Friday after a teacher tested positive, reports Radio Zet. In the southeastern Podkarpackie province, four schools have been closed due to infections among employees.
This afternoon, the education ministry announced that 47 educational institutions have been fully closed around the country, with teaching carried out by remote learning. A further 12 are working with a hybrid model of both online and in-person teaching, reports TVN24.
Parents around Poland have reported of having to wait in long lines (in some cases for two hours) outside schools as they reopen on the first day of the new academic year with sanitary measures in place, including taking the temperature of arriving pupils https://t.co/EFuaUa5tkZ
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) September 1, 2020
Main image credit: Roman Bosiacki / Agencja Gazeta
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland and assistant professor of history at the Pedagogical University of Krakow. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, The Independent and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.