Polish president backs lockdown despite business frustration News Staff

WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s president on Monday expressed understanding for the “despair” of people who are opening their businesses in defiance of the anti-COVID-19 lockdown, but said they still must be punished for breaking government-ordered restrictions.

In comments published Monday, Andrzej Duda was reacting to the swelling nationwide #OtwieraMY (We Are Opening) movement of hundreds of business owners opening their restaurants, hotels, ski lifts, fitness centres and similar businesses to avoid going under as a result of the prolonged social distancing and lockdown, recently extended through January.

“I can understand the impatience and often even the despair of people, who see the work of their entire lives falling apart,” Duda said in an interview for the conservative weekly “Sieci.”

“Punishing people who are desperate is a terrible must,” Duda said, but added, however, that the regulations “have to be enforced.”

The government has warned those planning to or breaking the lockdown that they will be cut from the financial aid and exemptions from various dues it is offering if they go ahead with their action. Sanitary authorities are also fining unlocked businesses.

But business owners say the government help falls far short of their needs.

The #OtwieraMY movement describes itself as being an answer to a “crisis provoked by politicians” that it says is much more dangerous than the pandemic.

Social media is filling with videos and images from across Poland of parties at clubs and bars. In some of them, reportedly from last weekend, people are chanting anti-government slogans.

People in mountainous southern Poland are planning a protest action Feb. 1 that includes opening hostels, accommodation centres and ski lifts, their chief livelihoods that remained idled during the recent winter school vacation.

A recent opinion poll by the IBRiS polling centre shows that 70% of people support hotels and restaurants breaking the lockdown to save their businesses, while 75% of people support the opening of ski lifts. But only 24% feel the same about night clubs.

The survey Jan. 19 on 1,100 adult respondents had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

In Germany, a similar initiative called #wirmachenauf (“We’re opening up”) called for businesses to open earlier this month in defiance of the country’s lockdown. The campaign appears to have fizzled, however. Polls in Germany still point to widespread support for coronavirus restrictions.

The Associated Press

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