Healthcare & Pharmaceuticals

Portugal could ease isolation rules by Jan. 30 vote as infections soar

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A woman wearing a protective masks walks in Terreiro do Paco, moments before a governmental news conference to announce new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions, in Lisbon, Portugal, December 21, 2021. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

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LISBON, Jan 5 (Reuters) - Portugal's authorities said on Wednesday that isolation rules for quarantined voters may need to be eased ahead of a snap general election on Jan. 30 as the country reported a daily record of 39,570 COVID-19 infections.

As the Omicron variant sweeps the country that has one of the world's highest vaccination rates, hospital admissions and mortality remain well below levels seen in the previous peak of the disease in early 2021.

After a meeting with health experts, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa told reporters the government wanted to ensure that everyone, including those having to isolate because of the virus, can exercise their right to vote.

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He said the administration, which retains full powers despite the upcoming early election, had requested a legal evaluation by the prosecutors' office on "whether it is possible to exercise the right to vote in safe conditions despite isolation...That is, suspending isolation for that purpose."

Some experts have estimated that around 400,000 people could be in isolation by the time of the election in a country where voter turnout has been in decline for years.

Health authority DGS has already reduced the mandatory isolation period for those infected experiencing no or only mild symptoms to seven days from 10.

DGS registered 14 fatalities from COVID-19, slightly down from Tuesday's 15, and far lower than the over 300 daily deaths in Portugal's deadliest wave of the pandemic in late January, when the country had just started its vaccination campaign.

Hospitals had 1,251 COVID-19 patients compared with a peak of 6,869 on Feb. 1. There were 143 people in intensive care.

The infection rate stood at 2,104 per 100,000 people, one of the highest in Europe.

Portugal has fully vaccinated around 87% of its 10-million-strong population, and given booster shots to 3 million.

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Reporting by Catarina Demony and Sérgio Gonçalves; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Barbara Lewis

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