A surge in Covid-19 to record levels in Portugal has already affected Sunday’s presidential election.
Because of the strict lockdown measures throughout the country, and because there are no postal or electronic methods of voting in place, special arrangements were made for elderly citizens in quarantine and in care homes to cast their ballots well ahead of time.
Many of the more than 10 million registered voters will use the normal polling-booth system on Sunday, but the total turnout is almost certain to be exceptionally low.
Incumbent President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and his six rival candidates have been frustrated in their campaigning by not being able to get out and about to meet citizens.
De Sousa is expected to comfortably win a second term in office. This is despite harsh criticism from opponents for his cooperation with the minority socialist government in the handling of the Covid crisis.
President de Sousa, 72, won his first five-year term in March 2016. He is a veteran of the the right-of-centre Portuguese Social Democratic Party (PSD), a former professor and a popular media pundit.
While the role of the president is largely ceremonial, he has strong powers in times of political crisis. So far, he has worked well with the centre-left Socialist prime minister, António Costa, who leads a minority government wanting for support.
Second place in the president election is likely to go to either Ana Gomes of the centre-left or André Ventura of the hard right. Ventura is particularly controversial as he is the strongest representative of the hard right since the toppling of Portugal’s dictatorship in the 1974 revolution.
The daily statistics for people affected by the Covid-19 pandemic have surged since Christmas. They are expected to rise further in the immediate future.
Last Wednesday, more than 14,600 new Covid infections set a national record and one of the highest surges in the world. Covid deaths were were being recorded on average every seven minutes.
The health authorities confirmed that there were about 3,600 more cases on Wednesday than the previous daily record set a few days earlier.
The number of COVID’19 patients in hospital and in intensive care has also soared to record heights and pushed medical facilities to their limits.
The military are collaborating with public and private hospitals to help meet the unprecedented needs.
The current tight restrictions, which are obviously creating great social and economic hardships, will continue at least until Saturday 30th January. A review may extend them further.
An EU virtual summit meeting on Thursday highlighted disagreement on plans to restrict cross-border travel. Some member states want a total ban.
Portugal has now banned all flights with the UK, especially in the light of variants of the coronavirus.
Serious concerns were expressed during the summit meeting over the relatively slow rollout of virus vaccines across Europe.
By 17th January, more than 662,000 deaths due to the pandemic had been recorded across Europe.
Len Port is a journalist and author. Born in Northern Ireland, his first written pieces were published while he was working in the Natural History Museum, London. Since then he has worked as a news reporter, mainly in Hong Kong, Northern Ireland, South Africa and Portugal. In addition to reporting hard news for some of the world’s leading news organizations, he has produced countless feature articles on all sorts of subjects for a range of publications. Now living in southern Portugal, his books include travel guides and children’s stories. His ebooks – People in a PlaceApart and The Fátima Phenomenon – Divine Grace, Delusion or Pious Fraud? are available from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk. His blog posts can be viewed at algarvenewswatch.blogspot.com