By Catarina Demony and Silvio Castellanos
LISBON – Portuguese election organisers were taking extra safety precautions on Saturday after the government decided to allow voters who are infected with the coronavirus to leave isolation and cast ballots in person along with everyone else.
With around a tenth of Portugal’s 10 million-strong population now thought to be isolating due to COVID-19, the government decided last week to lift restrictions for Sunday’s vote.
In a press conference on Saturday, the electoral commission said “all conditions have been met for the vote to take place in absolute safety”.
Like many European countries, Portugal is experiencing record-setting infections, although widespread vaccination has kept deaths and hospitalisations lower than in earlier waves.
Authorities have asked those with COVID to vote between 6:00 and 7:00 pm, but the time recommendation is not mandatory. There will be no designated areas for infected voters.
Staff setting up a polling station at an auto repair shop in the Lisbon parish of Santo Antonio were placing stickers on the floor on Saturday to encourage social distancing. Voters will receive a face mask before they enter.
Parish President Vasco Morgado said he was concerned some non-infected voters might be afraid to show up.
“The people working at the polling station are also putting themselves at risk for the sake of democracy,” he said.
Sofia Mantua, 27, is taking all precautions to vote on Sunday, including taking her own pen. It would have been better if those infected voted on a different day, she said.
“It’s always hard to manage… I think it should have been planned (ahead of time) because we knew we were still in a pandemic,” Mantua said.
The election is wide open as the ruling Socialists continue to lose their lead in opinion polls to the main opposition party, the centre-right Social Democrats.