South Korea presidential elections will be held soon but Koreans infected with COVID-19 were not able to vote. The move comes as the country is experiencing a surge of omicron infections.
South Korea’s parliament on February 14 approved plans to provide a special time for COVID-19 patients to vote during the next presidential election.
Voters diagnosed with COVID-19, or other highly infectious diseases, placed in self-isolation will have a dedicated time to come and vote at polling stations. Regular voting closes at 6 p.m. and a special voting time would be open from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. for infected voters according to the amendment.
The extended time would be for both anticipated voting days and the election day on March 9.
The proposed amendment needs to be endorsed by the Cabinet Council and signed by Korean President Moon Jae-in to be enforced. Governing and opposition parties have however already agreed on the measure which ought to be formally enacted.
Under the current law, virus patients had to apply for postal ballots or for casting ballots in a polling station on March 5, the second day of advance voting. But the registration period ended on February 13. Koreans were actually barred from voting if they were infected by COVID-19 shortly before election day due to the self-isolation restrictions.
National Election Commission will work out details such as the protection polling officers would wear or whether separate polling booths would be installed for sick voters.
The presidential campaign officially started on February 15 with a highly uncertain result.
South Korea expects many COVID-19 infections during the presidential elections
Opinion surveys show liberal governing party candidate Lee Jae-myung and his conservative opposition rival Yoon Suk Yeol running neck-and-neck. By law, current President Moon Jae-in cannot be elected for another five-year term.
Lee Jae-myung, from the Democratic Party, who became known for his aggressive management of the COVID-19 pandemic, advocates for a universal basic income. He also proposed to provide healthcare for hair loss medical treatment and recently apologized for inappropriate use of public money when he was governor.
The adaptation of the voting procedure comes as South Korea is experiencing a record-breaking omicron surge a few weeks before the presidential elections. There are currently approximately 232,000 people with mild or moderate COVID-19 symptoms being treated at home, according to the Health Ministry.
The country managed to keep COVID-19 infections at a low level until now. But on February 14 new virus cases surpassed 50,000 for a fifth consecutive day in a country of 51 million people. South Korea on Monday officially recorded a total of 1.4 million infections and 7,102 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
The current level of new daily cases is about a 12-fold increase from mid-January, when omicron became the country’s dominant strain.
Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency warned that South Korea may have up to 170,000 new daily cases by late February.
In response to the virus spike, South Korea has significantly eased quarantine restrictions and reshaped its COVID-19 response to focus on at-home treatment and rapid antigen testing.