All schools, unis, museums, theatres, cinemas closed from Thursday: COVID-19

In an effort to curb the proliferation of the coronavirus in Poland, the government decided on Wednesday to close all nurseries, kindergartens, schools, universities, museums, theatres, philharmonics and cinemas for a two week period.

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“We have decided to close all schools and universities for 2 weeks, starting from Monday,” said PM Mateusz Morawiecki, adding that “on Thursday and Friday, some schools and universities will remain open so that this extraordinary situation can be arranged… It is best for children not to leave home. Children are spreaders of the virus… Children may infect their grandparents. We know that children get over the disease quite easily.”

“We have decided to close museums, theatres and also cinemas,” said the PM, adding that “the government needs to act immediately… Common sense tells us to minimise the likelihood of the virus spreading across the country… The isolation and quarantine of infected individuals is an extremely important method for curbing the spreading of the coronavirus.”

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‘Responsibility’ is the key: PM

“The developing epidemic may become very dangerous. According to the WHO, it might metastasise into a pandemic. That is why we need to act quickly and preemptively,” said the PM, adding that “it is clear that Poland is carrying out a very good strategy… We introduced sanitary border controls. This method was taken up by other countries… [In the western European countries] the coronavirus has already spread over vast territories. In Poland… we have probably registered the 26th case of coronavirus… The virus will keep on spreading. We need determined behaviours… Shaking hands… such behaviours need to be avoided. We need to avoid large gatherings.”

“Some countries shut down their borders and access to public venues… Today, ‘responsibility’ needs to be the principle in Poland… All of these procedures are aimed at maintaining common sense, which must prevail,” said PM Morawiecki.

The PM also added that the nature of the coronavirus remained a mystery. “This virus is capable of swift mutations. Specialists say that a vaccine is a question mark. Designing it could even take several months… Theories have circulated that warmer weather would bring down the virus, however, that we do not know that… The grimmest scenario is that the virus keeps on spreading entailing unknown ramifications… It is better to be safe than sorry. It is better to undertake actions that may seem like an overreaction in a couple of months time… The Polish government’s actions are mimicked by others… I cannot predict the percentage of the society that will end up infected… Specialists say that infectious disease should be tackled with isolation, quarantine and a change in habits because such an alteration may contribute to the slowing down of the proliferation of the disease,” said the PM.

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14-day suspension period of civic quarantine

Speaking at the same press conference as the PM, Health Minister Łukasz Szumowski said that there were “still 25 confirmed cases” in Poland.

“These 14 days when schools and universities will not be in operation are no holidays… This is a time of civic quarantine. This is a time we must spend at home and not to infect others. Despite our young age, we could cause the death of elderly people,” said the Health Minister, adding that “the number of people tested for coronavirus in Poland is increasing.”

Nurseries, kindergartens, schools and universities suspended

Education Minister Dariusz Piątkowski announced that the government “has decided to suspend activities at kindergartens, schools and universities… Starting from Thursday we are suspending school activities. Pupils will stop attending schools. In extraordinary cases… children may attend schools [on Thursday and Friday]... The majority of schools will suspend their activities on Friday and starting from Monday all kindergartens, schools and universities will comply… The decision to suspend their practices for 14 days does not influence the school calendar year.”

Mr Piątkowski stressed that “children and youths may be virus spreaders,” adding that “teachers will be ready to work, however, we will not require their presence in schools [during the suspension period]... Teachers, using the e-podrę website, are able to provide pupils with educational material [online]... I appeal to parents and pupils… do not treat these two weeks like a holiday… According to the labour code, teachers will receive salaries during the two weeks of school activities suspension period.”

The Education Minister also stressed that “the suspension period also applies to non-public schools.”

Government introduces benefit to help parents stay with children and work from home

For her part, Family, Labour and Social Policy Minister Marlena Maląg said that “a decision has been made to close nurseries and kindergartens… A special resolution has introduced a benefit for parents who would have to stay at home with their children … Both mums and dads are eligible for the carer benefit… Working remotely would also allow parents to benefit from the carer benefit.”

She added that “regarding whether this benefit will be extended [beyond the 14-day-long suspension period], this is to be decided.”

Science and Higher Education Minister Jarosław Gowin said “I have decided to suspend on-campus university activities between March 12-25… Lectures and courses are to continue online.”

Elbow-knock replaces the handshake

Whereas Culture and National Heritage Minister Piotr Gliński said that “starting from Thursday, philharmonics, museums and cinemas will suspend their activities that involve gatherings of large groups of people… The situation is serious but not dramatic… I would like to appeal to all NGOs and social activists to remain responsible.”

Mr Gliński also said that approaching the situation “from an anthropological angle… I would like to suggest the replacement of the beautiful way of greeting one another, namely the handshake, with an elbow-knock,” and demonstrated how to execute the greeting, by knocking elbows with Education Minister Dariusz Piątkowski.