'Beginning of the end': upbeat Poland cuts COVID isolation

FILE PHOTO: Medical staff members treat patients inside the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) ward at the Hospital of the Ministry of Interior and Administration in Warsaw

WARSAW (Reuters) - An end to the COVID-19 pandemic is in sight, the Polish health minister said on Wednesday, as he announced a cut to the isolation period for people infected with the coronavirus and looser quarantine rules.

Poland saw record daily case numbers as recently as two weeks ago, but with infections falling and the effects of Omicron appearing to be milder than previous variants, authorities believe the time is right for a lighter touch.

"We are dealing with the beginning of the end of the pandemic," Adam Niedzielski told a news conference. "In February, declines in infections should be relatively large."

From Feb. 15 the isolation period for people with COVID-19 will be cut to seven days from 10. People in the same household will only be quarantined during the isolation period.

From Feb. 11, people from outside an infected person's household who have come into contact with them will not be quarantined. Quarantine for travellers without a COVID vaccination certificate will also be cut to seven days.

Education Minister Przemyslaw Czarnek said school pupils would return to on-site learning from Feb. 21.

In comments published earlier on Wednesday, Niedzielski said Poland may lift its COVID-19 restrictions in March if daily infection numbers kept falling at the current rate.

"If the tempo at which infections are falling remains the same, there is a realistic prospect of lifting restrictions in March," Niedzielski told the Fakt tabloid.

He said wearing masks in closed spaces would become a recommendation rather than a requirement.

Poland currently requires people to wear masks in enclosed public spaces and there are limits on the number of unvaccinated people allowed in restaurants and other venues. The regulations are often not strictly enforced.

The country of around 38 million people has reported 5,271,016 cases of the coronavirus and 107,204 deaths.

(Reporting by Alan Charlish, Pawel Florkiewicz, Marek Strzelecki; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Alison Williams)