Warsaw: Poland is experiencing a fifth wave of COVID-19 infections, the health minister said on Monday, warning that the spread of the Omicron variant could send daily case numbers soaring to levels not yet seen in the country.
While daily case numbers have fallen since early December, the European Union's largest eastern member has had little respite since the fourth wave, regularly reporting over 10,000 new infections per day amid low vaccine take-up and limited restrictions on public life.
"We predict that the peak of infections will be in mid-February and that peak is about 60,000 cases a day," Adam Niedzielski told a news conference.
The highest number of daily cases reported since the pandemic began was 35,251 on April 1, 2021.
Niedzielski said that he expected figures released on Tuesday to show in excess of 20,000 daily cases.
On Friday, 13 of the 17 members of Poland's Medical Council advising the prime minister on COVID-19 resigned, condemning what they said was a lack of scientific influence on policy.
One of the members who resigned, Dr Konstanty Szuldrzynski, told TVN24 on Monday that the death rate in countries where stricter restrictions had been enforced had been lower than in Poland, and that the fifth wave would put the health service under enormous strain.
"We are going into the next wave of Omicron completely unprepared," he said. "Please remember that the huge death rate in Poland is not just related to the low percentage of vaccinated people but also to the fact that we have a very outdated health system." Niedzielski said he had tried to persuade the members of the council who left to continue their work as part of the body, but without success. He said a new advisory body would be created which would take a different form.
"The change will consist mainly in extending the format, so there will be a wider range of experts who will assist and advise the prime minister," Niedzielski said.
The country of around 38 million has so far reported 4,323,482 cases of the coronavirus and 102,309 deaths.