Masked, socially-distanced and each using their own pen to avoid spreading germs, the Portuguese headed to the polls yesterday to vote for the largely ceremonial post of president even as coronavirus (Covid-19) cases reach record levels.
Opinion polls show that the incumbent, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa of the centre-right Social Democratic Party, is likely to win with ease.
“I’m here among the first to avoid groups and queues,” said Cristina Queda, 58, who arrived at her polling station in Lisbon as soon as it opened at 8am. “Since the date of the elections wasn’t changed, I decided to come early to avoid that situation.”
Just under two-thirds of Portuguese thought the election should have been postponed because of the pandemic, according to a poll conducted last week by research institute ISC/ISCTE.
Some later arrivals reported waiting around half an hour in queues that went around the block, as rules dictated voters must stand 2m apart with just one person allowed inside at a time.
Pollsters predict record abstention of 60-70% in part because hundreds of thousands of voters are themselves in quarantine.
Casting his vote at a Lisbon school, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said all measures were taken to prevent contagion.
“All the provisions are in place,” Costa said. “We are at a very grave point of the pandemic – everything was done for people to be able to exercise their democratic right to vote.”
The country of 10mn people is experiencing a severe post-Christmas pandemic surge, with the world’s highest seven-day rolling average of new cases and deaths per capita, according to Oxford University data tracker www.ourworldindata.org.
The number of Covid-19 deaths broke records for the seventh day in a row yesterday at 275, with hospitalisations also at an all-time high and ambulances queuing for several hours at Lisbon hospitals full to capacity.
“I don’t agree that the date wasn’t changed,” Jose Antonio Queda, 72, who also voted early with his wife, said. “If we’re in confinement, we should be avoiding the virus as much as possible.”
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