UPDATED: Poland widens testing as COVID cases hit record

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Poles will be able to get tested for COVID-19 in pharmacies free of charge, the government said on Friday, after the country reported a record 36,665 daily cases as the Omicron variant takes hold.

Authorities have warned that the latest wave of the pandemic will drive case numbers to levels as yet unseen in the European Union’s largest eastern member, with estimates of the peak ranging from 60,000 to as many as 140,000 daily cases.

Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said that on Saturday the country could report over 40,000 daily cases. A week ago the figure was just over 16,000.

“We have been through a week which we can say was an explosion of the pandemic,” Niedzielski told a news conference.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the country would expand the number of COVID-19 hospital beds available to deal with the spike in cases. He also announced that the quarantine period would be reduced to seven days from ten currently.

Free testing in pharmacies will be available from Jan 27.

Poland, which has one of the world’s highest COVID-19 death rates, has a lower rate of vaccination than the EU average and the limited restrictions in place, such as wearing masks in enclosed public spaces, are often not strictly enforced.

On Wednesday, Niedzielski said that state employees would move to remote working and private sector companies should follow suit in order to limit the spread of the virus.

The country of around 38 million people has so far reported 4,443,217 cases of the coronavirus and 103,626 deaths.

Photo – Soldiers of the Guard of Honor wearing protective masks at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during the coronavirus pandemic in Warsaw, Poland. EPA-EFE/Piotr Nowak

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