LISBON – Authorities in Portugal are wrestling with a conundrum: how to hold a general election scheduled for Jan. 30 amid a surge in COVID-19 cases that is confining hundreds of thousands of potential voters to their homes.
Around 400,000 people are currently in isolation in the country of 10.3 million, and political leaders said Wednesday they are trying to figure out how to organize the ballot.
The surge shows no signs of slowing. The number of officially recorded new daily infections hit a new record Wednesday, reaching almost 40,000. The health ministry reported 14 deaths in the country, where 88% of the population is fully vaccinated.
Portugal has officially reported between 20,000-30,000 new infections a day recently. The highly infectious omicron variant and increased testing due to the requirement to show a negative test to enter restaurants and sports events, among other venues, are blamed for the record numbers.
Officials are considering waiving isolation rules so that people can vote, or reducing isolation periods, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said.
Another option is to make available more polling stations and voting booths, to avoid crowds gathering, and extend early voting possibilities, he told reporters.
However, parliament has been dissolved ahead of the ballot, raising the question of how to pass the legislation required to alter voting procedures.
Authorities are especially wary because a year ago, after a Christmas easing of pandemic restrictions and a presidential election, Portugal became for several weeks the worst-hit country in the world by the pandemic in relative terms.
There are 9.3 million eligible voters in Portugal. They are due to elect a new parliament, which will choose a new government.
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