PM assures elderly that it’s safe to vote

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that Poland no longer needs to fear COVID-19 and urged all voters, especially the elderly, to turn out in the presidential election on July 12.

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Numbers of daily infections have been dropping slowly over the past two weeks after a spike in the rate of infections in Silesian coal mines subsided.

“I am glad that we are less and less afraid of this virus,” said the PM during a rally in the south-eastern Tomaszów Lubelski. His remarks came at yet another rally during the election campaign during which crowds are usually not wearing masks, in contravention of the government’s sanitary guidelines.

Health Minister Łukasz Szumowski has also told voters that the election process was safe. He said that the sanitary precautions made polling stations safer than shops. He also asked the election authorities to ensure that pensioners would not have to stand in line to vote, along with mothers with small children.

The prime minister’s and the health minister’s words came in the aftermath of the turnout among the elderly being lower than expected at Sunday’s presidential election first round. According to exit polling in October’s parliamentary election, 66 percent of those over 60 took part. But on Sunday, that figure fell to 56 percent, despite the overall turnout having been higher.

Analysts speculate that this may have been caused by hot weather of over 30°C. However, fear of COVID-19 could also have been a factor. All voters were able to apply for postal votes but fewer than 200,000 (0.6 percent of the electoral roll) actually did so in Poland. A much greater number of postal ballots was cast from Poles living abroad, for whom postal voting in the countries they reside in had to be compulsory because of coronavirus restrictions regarding the opening of polling stations.

Pensioners are a social group that supports the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) and President Andrzej Duda in large numbers. According to exit polling, the President polled 60 percent in the 60+ bracket on Sunday whereas he polled 43.5 percent overall.

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Poland has contained the pandemic with a tough early lockdown. It has enjoyed a relatively low rate of infections and fatalities compared with other large European countries.

The rise in the number of cases in Poland was slower than most of Europe, but so has been the rate of decline in the number of infections. The fact that the number in hospitals have been steady throughout the last three months has ensured that the Polish health service was able to cope with the outbreak without being overwhelmed.

Since Easter Poland has been gradually “unfreezing” the country from lockdown. The latest fourth stage of the process began in late May. International air and rail connections have been brought back and the country’s borders with EU neighbours reopened.