The COVID-19 epidemic in Poland against the background of multidimensional challenges of the country and society

Robert Krzysztofik,
Associate Professor,
University of Silesia in Katowice, Institute of Social And Economic Geography and Spatial Management,

The COVID-19 pandemic, which spread in 2020 worldwide, has impacted on the most of the existing socio-economic phenomena and processes – directly or indirectly. Unfortunately, apart from the tragic consequences for the life and health of millions of people, it also has disturbed the life of societies, individuals, institutions, and the economy. These consequences varied from country to country. The global dimension of the pandemic was, in this respect, similar to the essence of COVID-19 (many variants and consequences). They are sometimes surprising and sometimes determined by previous conditions. Even though understanding the essence of COVID-19 and its multidimensional consequences, including socio-economic, is still growing, there are still gaps in this matter. Perhaps paradoxically, it is more pronounced in the socio-economic area than in the medical or epidemiological one. The challenges above and the heterogeneity mentioned above of the COVID-19 phenomenon worldwide also affected Poland.

Like every country globally, Poland had its conditions for the spread of COVID-19 and ways of dealing with the pandemic. The essence of the epidemic in Poland overlapped with several essential phenomena and ongoing discussions. The key factors here seem to be the economic transformation of the post-socialist country, issues related to climate changes and decarbonization, and the orientation of the state’s policy towards conservative thinking – together (within the European Union), but at the same time separately. All these issues, as well as social, economic, and political conditions, had to be influenced by the COVID-19 epidemic, which suddenly appeared and spread rapidly.

As early as March 2020, due to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, the government decided to introduce the first socio-economic lockdown. The decision was obvious. The Polish health service was not ready for the dynamically growing number of hospitalized patients. Worse still, the number of deaths increased, especially among the elderly and the chronically ill. In a society with a strong identity of a nation that makes a joint effort to protect the country and its inhabitants under challenging moments in history, the tragic events related to the COVID-19 epidemic have focused actions and decisions on the issue of support and self-defense. This empathetic approach towards a part of society brings about reducing the first wave of the epidemic. At the same time, however, it puts many sectors of the transforming economy to the test. The paralyzing negative consequences of the blockade of large parts of services and trade raise concerns about the future of the manufacturing sector. This sector has become a showcase of the Polish economy in times of transformation. The worst is all the more because a large part of the industry depends on global system.

Additionally, already in mid-2020, massive infections in the Polish coal mining industry are exacerbating its problems. All the more so as it happened at a pivotal moment in the discussion on decarbonizing the Polish energy sector. Mid-2020 was also a time of important (presidential) elections, which were to confirm the legitimacy of the policies adopted by the conservative-right-wing government. A conservative candidate won the elections. The discussion about holding elections during the epidemic raises doubts on both sides of the polarized Polish political scene and society.

At the end of April 2021, Poland is slowly recovering from the third wave of the COVID-19 epidemic. Unfortunately, the consequences of this stage of the epidemic are dramatic. For many days, the number of deaths per 100,000 inhabitants was record-breaking not only in Europe but also in the world. The answer to the question about this affairs is not easy. There are many reasons for this. Apart from the huge number of hospitalizations, for which the Polish health care system has not managed to prepare, important significance has air pollution. The symbol is mining Upper Silesia in southern Poland. There are the most deaths here, not only because of the large number of inhabitants and its high concentration. Here, the most polluted town in Europe is, and many others are in the top 100 of this infamous ranking. However, the time of the pandemic brought government decisions to decarbonize the country and shut down coal mining.

The COVID-19 epidemic is in Poland – and in many other countries – a turning point in thinking about the future of society, economy, and politics, including the EU. Not only politicians and decision-makers pass the competency test, but most of all, societies and communities. However, in this case, the result of this exam is not expected. The end of the pandemic in Poland and the world is more expected.


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