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WARSAW — Poland’s government on Tuesday promised to step up vaccinating the country’s population in the hope that faster jabs will calm a growing political storm over the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
The government pledged to open more vaccination points and to expand the number of people permitted to authorize vaccinations from just doctors to include nurses, dentists, medical rescue workers, pharmacists and medical students. It’s also planning to open up vaccinations to the whole population by May; jabs are currently being allocated according to age cohorts and to people and professions facing higher risks.
Companies where at least 500 people declare they want to be vaccinated will also get approval to organize in-house vaccination points.
“The national vaccination program is a test of the functioning of the state,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Tuesday.
The govenrment is also cranking up pressure on Brussels to speed up vaccine deliveries.
“Every day counts,” Morawiecki said. “I’ve set the goal to have 10 million vaccinations a month. That is our national task.”
The government says it’s hitting its quarterly vaccination targets — a program that’s come under fierce attack from the opposition for falling short.
“Access to vaccinations was the challenge in the first quarter. Now the challenge is efficiently administering 5 million — maybe even 7 million — doses that are arriving in Poland in April,” Michał Dworczyk, who coordinates the government’s vaccination effort, told reporters Tuesday.
Looking for political rescue
There’s a growing sense of desperation to bring the virus under control — Poland is seeing record numbers of new cases and deaths, making it one of the hardest-hit countries in the EU.
There’s also rising dissatisfaction with ongoing restrictions and worry about the economy with businesses like restaurants, hotels, barbers, beauty salons, gyms, shopping malls and large shops forced to remain closed. The underfinanced and understaffed health care system is at risk of being overwhelmed, with reports that some regions are running out of respirators and free beds in COVID hospitals.
The pressure is causing growing disarray in the ruling United Right coalition of the Law and Justice (PiS) party and two smaller allies, Agreement and United Poland.
As a result, the government is lashing out at the opposition and at private hospitals, accusing them of hampering the COVID fight.
Morawiecki attacked the opposition last week, accusing it of stoking political divisions in the country during the pandemic, which he said requires an “all hands on deck” strategy.
“I call on the opposition: if you cannot act in solidarity with the government, then at least do not aggravate the situation,” he said.
Whether those efforts will bring the government political respite is unclear.
Most opinion polls this year show United Right falling short of retaining a parliamentary majority in the event of a snap election; the next election is due only in 2023. A survey for the Onet news website released Tuesday had it at 31 percent support — enough for about 190 seats in the 460-seat lower house of parliament.
Although United Right is still in first place, if opposition parties cooperate, they’d be able to oust the nationalists from power for the first time since 2015.
There are also visible tensions within United Right as the smaller parties try to carve out a political space for themselves in case of an early election. The government lost two votes on tax legislation on Tuesday after several MPs from the coalition parties balked.
There’s also a bitter battle over the EU’s €672.5 billion Recovery and Resilience Facility. The right-wing United Poland party is refusing to back the measure, warning about it leading to a federal EU, forcing PiS to hunt for support on the opposition benches.
An early test of these political trends comes in May during an election for the mayor of the southwestern city of Rzeszów. The opposition has put forward a single candidate while PiS and United Poland are each running their own nominees.
“This is going to be the first electoral confrontation in the country after last year’s presidential election. The first real test of the strength of government and opposition groups,” Michał Kobosko, the deputy head of the opposition Polska 2050 party, told the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper.
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