WARSAW, Poland ( Associated Press) – Poland has become the latest European nation to reach the tragic milestone of 100,000 deaths related to the coronavirus.
About a quarter of those deaths – some 24,000 – occurred in the most recent wave of infections that began in October, a period in which vaccines are widely available in the European Union nation of 38 million people.
Health Minister Adam Nidzielski said on Tuesday that 493 more people had died with COVID-19, bringing the total pandemic death toll in the central European nation to 100,254.
The bleak marker comes as daily new infections have fallen after a peak in what officials call the country’s “fourth wave” of COVID-19 driven by the Delta version. But with the Omicron type spreading, another big infection wave is emerging.
The first two deaths from Omicron occurred on Monday, both in the elderly and unvaccinated people.
Niedzielski said more than 18,000 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized, making it “the most difficult situation compared to other waves.”
Poland has struggled through the pandemic with the health care sector over the past two decades fed up with limited funding and the migration of many medical professionals to Western Europe.
According to OECD data, Poland is the country in the European Union with the lowest number of working doctors as a proportion of its population – just 2.4 to 1,000 residents, compared to 4.5 in Germany. Poland has only 5 nurses for 1,000 residents, well below the EU average of 8 and far below wealthy countries such as Germany, which has 14.
Most of the COVID-19 deaths in the last wave – 83% – are of unvaccinated people. Among people under the age of 44, more than 90% of those who died had not been vaccinated.
The vaccination rate in Poland is around 56% – a rate much lower than countries in Western Europe but much higher than some other Central European countries such as Bulgaria and Romania.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s government has sought to encourage vaccination, but is also against fear and hesitation among some in the population – and sometimes among its supporters of the governing Law and Justice party.
In recent days, a school superintendent and party loyalist in the province around Krakow, Barbara Nowak, said she opposed making vaccines mandatory for teachers, an idea supported by the health minister. She claimed that “the results of this experiment are not fully established.”
His words were sharply criticized by health and education ministers and medical professionals, but the education minister declined calls for his dismissal.
Poland now joins Russia, Britain, Italy, France and Germany as European countries that have recorded more than 100,000 deaths.
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