Polish President Andrzej Duda, 48, has announced he tested positive for the new coronavirus, a diagnosis that comes as the country experiences a huge surge in confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Duda said on Saturday in a recording published on Twitter he was experiencing no COVID-19 symptoms “but unfortunately, the test result is absolutely unambiguous”.
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“I would like to apologise to all those who are exposed to quarantine procedures because of meeting me in recent days,” he said. “If I had had any symptoms, please, believe me, all meetings would have been cancelled.”
Duda on Friday visited the National Stadium in the capital, Warsaw, which is being transformed into a field hospital to treat coronavirus patients.
On the same day, he also bestowed state honours on Iga Swiatek, the 19-year-old Polish tennis player who won the French Open this month, and her father and trainer, Tomasz Swiatek.
Duda and the Swiateks wore masks and gloves but stood very close and shook hands as the president fastened honorary pins on them.
Iga Swiatek said she and others on her team have no symptoms but would go into quarantine following Duda’s positive test. She said they are tested regularly and would be tested again in three days.
The president’s key constitutional roles include guiding foreign policy and signing legislation. But many of his duties are ceremonial, and most of the responsibility for running the country lies with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s government.
Poland on Saturday reported 13,628 new confirmed cases and a record daily number of COVID-19 related deaths – 179. The daily case count was the nation’s second-highest of the pandemic after a record number set on Friday.
Poland, a country of 38 million people, saw very low infection rates in the spring.
Protests against restrictions
Along with the number of infections, social tensions have been growing in the country, too.
Police in Warsaw on Saturday used tear gas on protesters angry over new virus restrictions, a group that includes entrepreneurs, far-right politicians, football fans and opponents of vaccinations. The protesters, many wearing no protective masks, violated a limit on public gatherings.
It came as people also took to the streets of the capital and other cities for a third day to protest against a court ruling that declared the abortion of fetuses with congenital defects unconstitutional. The decision further restricted what was already one of Europe’s strictest abortion laws.
Critics accuse Poland’s right-wing governing party of using the cover of the pandemic and a court it has filled with loyalists to impede abortion access in a legally dubious manner.
They also accuse the Law and Justice party of seeking to exacerbate social conflicts to distract attention from soaring COVID-19 infection rates.
The fast spread of the virus is pushing Poland’s strained healthcare system to breaking point. Doctors say patients are dying not only from COVID-19 but from other illnesses that overwhelmed hospitals are unable to treat.
The government is preparing to open field hospitals, but it is not clear where it will find the doctors and nurses to staff them
It imposed new restrictions starting on Saturday that are just short of a lockdown in hopes of bringing the country’s outbreak under control.
Morawiecki, the prime minister, appealed to Poles to strictly observe these “serious restrictions” in order to protect lives.
The country currently has about 11,500 patients hospitalised with COVID-19 and 911 of them on respirators, according to health officials.