Portugal allows those with COVID to vote on election day, recommends evening trip

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By Catarina Demony and Miguel Pereira

LISBON (Reuters) -Portuguese voters with COVID-19 and those in isolation will be allowed to leave home to cast their ballot when the country holds a snap election on Jan. 30, with the hour of 6-7 p.m. recommended for the trip, the government said on Wednesday.

The announcement came on the day Portugal, which has almost 90% of its 10 million population fully inoculated, reported 52,549 new COVID-19 infections, the highest daily figure since the pandemic began, stoked by the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

Interior Minister Francisca Van Dunem told a news conference quarantined voters should only head to polling stations from 6 to 7 p.m., urging those not infected to go before that period.

"We need a social pact that allows everyone to vote in safety," said Van Dunem, asking those in isolation not to take public transport but walk or use their own vehicle instead.

The recommended hour is not mandatory, however. Those with the virus 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.

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.

Hospitals on Wednesday had 1,959 COVID-19 patients compared with a record of 6,869 on Feb. 1 2021. Mortality remains well below levels seen in the previous peaks, with the total death toll standing at 19,413.

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, Angus MacSwan, Alexandra Hudson)