Polish president calls off big election rallies due to coronavirus

WARSAW (Reuters) - Polish President Andrzej Duda has said he will not organize large campaign meetings in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus, raising questions over how the outbreak could affect the election due in May.

FILE PHOTO: Polish President Andrzej Duda addresses supporters during a convention to inaugurate his campaign ahead of the upcoming presidential election in Warsaw, Poland February 15, 2020. Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS

The presidential vote will decide whether the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party can fully implement its agenda, including a further overhaul of the judiciary that has put it at loggerheads with Brussels, as the president can veto laws.

Duda is a PiS ally and is ahead in the polls, consistently scoring over 40%. If no candidate scores more than 50% in the first round there will be a runoff vote, which most polls show Duda narrowly winning against any opposition candidate.

His announcement late on Monday came before PiS Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Tuesday all mass events in the country would be canceled due to the outbreak.

“I have made the decision that I will not organize large meetings in connection with my presidential campaign, because these are meetings that hundreds of people come to,” state news agency PAP quoted Duda as saying.

“It seems to me that the risk that this may lead to the spread of coronavirus is too great.”

The country of 38 million people has reported 18 cases of coronavirus. No one has died from the virus in Poland.

Anna Materska-Sosnowska, a political scientist at Warsaw University, said the decision could benefit Duda.

“For the president this is quite comfortable, because he is widely recognized and he doesn’t have to go and show himself,” she said.

“It makes things much more difficult for the other candidates and also opens the possibility that the elections might not be held on the scheduled dates.”

The opposition’s leading candidate Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska said on Twitter that she too was putting big rallies on hold.

Poland said on Monday that it would introduce checks on its borders in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus.

Authorities in the western city of Poznan said on Tuesday they were recommending that all schools close as of Wednesday, while Education Minister Dariusz Piontkowski said further school closures could be considered.

The first coronavirus case in Poznan, in a middle-aged woman in a serious condition, was reported on Monday. The deputy major was quoted by PAP saying it was better to act sooner than later with the decision to close the schools.

Reporting by Alan Charlish, Joanna Plucinska and Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Robert Birsel and Alison Williams