Polish skiers enjoy the slopes even as COVID cases rise

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By Kacper Pempel

ZAKOPANE, Poland - While some European countries have restricted access to ski lifts to those vaccinated against COVID-19, no such restrictions apply in Poland - and some of those taking to the slopes are delighted.

Poland has one of the highest COVID-19 death rates in the world, a fact that doctors have attributed to its low vaccination rate but also public reluctance to follow rules and their lax enforcement.

While the country faces its most serious wave of infections yet, this was not a worry in the southern resort of Zakopane as the winter holiday season kicked off.

"Today's conditions are super - the sunshine, the view," said 31-year-old Dominika, who works in the military.

Countries such as Austria and Italy have said that COVID-19 passports will be required for ski lifts.

Poland has not imposed those limits and regulations state that 30% of the capacity of public spaces like restaurants can be taken up by unvaccinated people.

"Restrictions - well, I think they are useful, but unfortunately not everyone respects them," said Zuzanna Kowalczyk, 22, who is co-owner of the Karczma Obrechtowka restaurant in Zakopane.

Government spokesman Piotr Muller told by text message that regulations gave restaurant owners the right to check customers' vaccination status.

Thirteen of the 17 members of Poland's Medical Council advising the prime minister on COVID-19 resigned on Friday, condemning what they said was a lack of scientific influence on policy amid frustration that tougher rules had not been enforced.

After the resignations, the government said it had to take into account the advice of experts from a range of fields when making decisions.

Back on the slopes, 22-year-old soldier Mikolaj Wesolek said he was against measures that would result in the "sanitary segregation of people".

"I am vaccinated, but I think this is a personal matter. I got vaccinated because I would like to go abroad, and I don't feel threatened by COVID," he said.

(Reporting by Kacper Pempel; Additional reporting by Joanna Plucinska; Writing by Alan Charlish and Felix Hoske; Editing by Alison Williams)

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