(Reuters) – Portuguese voters with COVID-19 or those in isolation due to exposure to the rampant virus will be allowed to leave home to cast their ballots in a snap election on Jan. 30, the government said on Wednesday.
The announcement came a day after Portugal, which has almost 90% of its 10 million population fully inoculated, reported a daily record of 43,729 COVID-19 infections, stoked by the fast spreading Omicron variant. Hospital admissions and mortality remain well below levels seen in the previous peaks.
Interior Minister Francisca Van Dunem told a news conference quarantined voters should only head to polling stations from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., urging those not infected to go before that period.
The recommendation is not mandatory. They must wear a face mask, keep a social distance and can only leave home to vote.
Staff working at polling stations will be given protective equipment.
“We need a social pact that allows everyone to vote in safety,” said Van Dunem, asking those in isolation not to take public transport to the polling station but walk or use their own vehicle instead.
The head of health authority DGS, Graca Freitas, said there would be no designated areas for those with COVID-19 to vote in and they would not be required to show proof of their health status at the polls.
“This solution of having a dedicated time period for these people to vote… will prevent, not totally, but will minimise the risk of contagion,” Freitas said.
The election was called after parliament rejected the minority Socialist government’s budget bill for 2022. Prime Minister Antonio Costa’s party has a comfortable lead in opinion polls but is likely to fall short of a full parliamentary majority.
The election campaign is in full swing after Sunday’s kick-off and street rallies draw large crowds, where mask-wearing is optional. (Reporting by Catarina Demony and Miguel Pereira; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Angus MacSwan)
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