WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish police striving to improve one of Europe’s worst road fatality rates are having to cut back on testing drivers’ breath for alcohol for fear this could speed the transmission of coronavirus.

Poland reported its first case of the flu-like virus this week, among more than 85 countries to be hit by the outbreak since it emerged in China late last year, with more than 100,000 cases and 3,300 deaths so far.

Authorities worldwide are scrambling to stop the spread of the coronavirus, with people in some countries being asked to stay home from work, schools closing and large gatherings and events being canceled.

Radoslaw Kobrys, deputy inspector at the Polish police’s road traffic division, said it had received information from the Interior Ministry’s sanitary service suggesting “we limit the number of breath tests carried out using devices without mouthpieces”.

Poland uses two devices for breathalyzing drivers. One of them, without a mouthpiece, gives an instant indication of the presence of alcohol but can be used on many drivers in quick succession, raising the risk of the virus spreading easily.

The second device, which gives a precise reading of the amount of alcohol in the breath, has mouthpieces that are changed for every test but takes longer to produce readings.

Kobrys said the changes would curb mainly large scale testing of drivers in the morning and evening rush hours, but would not seriously affect road safety.

“Taking into account that every year we carry out almost 17 million tests, even if there is a minimal…decrease in the number of people tested this does not have a diametrical effect on what happens on Polish roads,” he said.

“If a police officer suspects that someone is under the influence of alcohol, he will test them.”

While road fatalities fell by 26% in Poland between 2010 and 2018, the country still has one of the highest rates in Europe, and police say that in 2019 there were over 1,600 accidents caused by drink driving.

(Reporting by Alan Charlish and Jaroslaw Gawlowski; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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