Temperatures continued to plunge in Poland over the weekend, killing 21 people, officials have said.

This brings the number of weather-related deaths over the past two months to 40.

Poland has been in the grip of a freezing cold spell since the beginning of the new year, with temperatures yet to climb above -7C.

In the capital Warsaw, the temperature dropped to -18C in the first weekend of 2016.

This is a complete contrast to the month of December, when the weather was far milder than usual - on December 26, the temperature in Warsaw reached a balmy 14C, 12C higher than the usual December maximum.

The sudden change in the weather caught some people by surprise, and many of those who died were homeless people sleeping in makeshift shelters.

Police are trying to encourage those who need a warm place to use local shelters. They have also appealed to residents to let them know where people are sleeping rough.

Meanwhile, in the Polish Tatra Mountains, six tourists have slipped and fallen to their deaths since December 25 while trekking on frozen snow and ice.

The cold spell over Poland is affecting much of central and eastern Europe.

Freezing rain has caused travel disruption in Germany, and Balkan countries have seen the first major snowstorm this winter.

The bitter cold in Poland will gradually ease over the coming days, and temperatures should rise above freezing on Friday.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies