The number of new COVID-19 (coronavirus) cases in Poland jumped 72% week-on-week to 19,652, the Ministry of Health said in its daily report on January 18.
The sharp increase is the real beginning of the fifth wave of the pandemic, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski warned. Polish pandemic modelling experts say that the number of cases is going to climb fast to tens of thousands to even over 100,000 cases a day as soon as the highly virulent Omicron variant becomes dominant.
Cases caused by the Omicron variant made up 3.6% of the most recent figure. Overall, however, Omicron is already 19% of all cases, Deputy Health Minister Waldemar Kraska told Wirtualna Polska news website.
The number of fatal cases came in at 377, dropping 23.5% week-on-week.
Experts warn that while the Omicron variant is likely milder than the preceding Delta variant, its high virulence means that even a small percentage of fatal cases out of the much higher number of overall cases will lead to thousands of deaths.
A model developed by Mocos, a team of international experts, said earlier this month that nearly 20,000 Poles could die between January 20 and February 11 during the peak of the new infections wave.
The Polish government is widely criticized for its inadequate response to the pandemic, the low vaccine uptake, little testing, and lack of enforcement of basic safety measures like masks and social distance.
Last week, 13 out of 17 medical experts quit the Medical Council, an advisory body to Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, in protest against the government’s inaction.
Polish media speculated on January 18 that Health Minister Adam Niedzielski wants to step down, frustrated by being unable to force an effective strategy of fighting the coronavirus. Several figures in the government circles have openly questioned the efficacy of the vaccines or tightening restrictions against the unvaccinated.