May 6, 2020 / 4:21 PM / 19 days ago

Polish preschools drawn into row over virus-hit election

WARSAW (Reuters) - Warsaw preschool director Beata Mizerska says she understands why the city’s liberal local council ordered her nursery to stay closed, despite Poland’s conservative government allowing nurseries to reopen from Wednesday, four days before a presidential election.

Kindergarten room without children is seen following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Warsaw, Poland May 5, 2020. Picture taken May 5, 2020. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

“It is a very short time to put in place all of the procedures from the chief sanitary inspector,” she said.

“(We have) to measure the temperature of the parent, measure the temperature of the child... (have a) specific number of children in the rooms and all the time have to disinfect everything.”

Nevertheless, she says she feels “immense sadness” at not being able to welcome the children back.

“We really miss the children, we miss that noise, that cry of joy as a welcome,” she said.

When Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on April 29 that shopping centres, hotels and preschools could reopen in the week before the election which the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party wants to hold as a postal ballot, critics said the timing might not be a coincidence.

“The plan to open up the economy... seems to be a bit haphazard and a bit political in a sense that I think that the government wants to prove beyond any doubt that it is possible to organise elections in May,” said the mayor of Warsaw, Rafal Trzaskowski, of the liberal opposition party Civic Platform (PO).

Marta Jagodzinska, 37, an office worker from the northern port city of Gdynia who has two daughters aged five and two, also thinks the election influenced the decision.

“I think that it’s mainly due to the elections... our government is trying to show us as much as possible that the situation has become normal but it’s not in my opinion,” she said.

Trzaskowski said he plans to reopen preschools later in May.

“We are concerned about safety and here three of four weeks makes a hell of a difference,” he said.

Poland, a country of 38 million, has reported 14,740 cases of the coronavirus and 733 deaths.

UNFREEZING THE ECONOMY

When asked about the allegations that election considerations had influenced the decision to reopen preschools, Education Minister Dariusz Piontkowski said the move was part of the government’s efforts to restart the economy, which has been brought to a virtual standstill by the pandemic.

“We want to avoid serious economic problems and as long as some families don’t go back to work it will be difficult to unblock the economy,” he told Reuters.

Slideshow (3 Images)

He said the decision was informed by a stabilisation in the number of infections and the needs of parents who want to work.

“I think it is essential (to open preschools) so we are able to go to work,” said Gdynia resident and mother of two Justyna Gabka, 34, who runs an optician’s shop.

It was unclear on Wednesday how many preschools opted to reopen, as councils in some regions told them to stay closed.

Reporting by Alan Charlish, Marcin Goclowski and Kacper Pempel; Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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