South Korea apologises for poor planning during special early voting for Covid-19 patients

People cast their ballots during early voting at a polling station in Seoul on March 4, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (NYTIMES) - South Korea's National Election Commission released an apology on Sunday (March 6) for poor planning during special early voting hours for coronavirus patients that resulted in unexpectedly long waits at polling sites and, according to local media reports, some patients fainting.

"We are very sorry for causing an inconvenience to the Covid-19 patients during the early voting period," the statement said.

It was unknown how many people were involved, but at least one person with Covid-19 had to be hospitalised.

South Korea is experiencing a sharp spike in coronavirus cases, its worst wave of the pandemic.

Lawmakers and health officials agreed last month to revise election laws to allow voters infected with the virus to cast a ballot in the country's contentious presidential election.

Under the new rules, members of the public could vote early all day on Friday and Saturday last week, but virus patients and those in quarantine were allowed at the polls only during a limited window on Saturday.

People with the virus were permitted to leave home to vote starting at 5pm and needed to walk, drive or take a cab to a polling station by 6pm.

But having so many show up at the same time caused lines of over an hour at some polls and, in many cases, outside in the cold weather.

More than one million people in South Korea were in in-home treatment for Covid-19 on Saturday, the health authorities said.

The nation is reporting an average of more than 208,000 new cases a day, according to the Centre for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

According to the election commission, the two-day early voting period had a 36.93 per cent voter turnout, which was more than 10 percentage points higher than the early voting turnout in the 2020 parliamentary elections.

On Wednesday, Election Day, the new rules will allow voters with Covid-19 to leave isolation to vote from 6pm to 7.30pm, the health authorities said.

The rest of the electorate will be able to vote from 6am to 6pm as a safety precaution.

Reflecting upon the mishaps during the early voting weekend, the election commission said that it would "come up with measures as soon as possible so that the public can vote with confidence on Election Day".

In another development related to the pandemic, the Hong Kong Post will suspend courier services and parcel deliveries on Monday to focus on essential postal services as the city faces a surge in Covid-19 cases due to the Omicron variant.

SF Express, a popular courier service in Hong Kong, has also suspended door-to-door deliveries, resulting in long lines at self-pickup locations.

As dozens of residential buildings are locked down for mass testing and increasing numbers of families self-isolate at home, delivery services are facing an increase in demand and a shortage of workers.

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