SEOUL: South Korea's parliament explored ways on Wednesday (Feb 9) to allow people who have caught the novel coronavirus to cast their ballot in next month's presidential election, as the number of new cases spiralled to nearly 50,000 for the first time.
South Korea will elect its next president on Mar 9, but concerns about potential COVID-related disruptions are growing as daily cases skyrocket due to the spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant.
The election watchdog planned to introduce a proposal on Wednesday to the National Assembly to amend the Public Official Election Act enabling in-person voting for COVID-19 patients after 6pm on Mar 5 and 9.
The current rules effectively ban people who were diagnosed with a contagious disease after the Mar 4-5 early voting period due to mandatory isolation policy.
Both the ruling and opposition parties have called for allowing the patients to vote from 6pm to 9pm, and an agreed proposal was expected to be put up for a vote on Monday.
The ruling Democratic Party also called for mail-in voting for the patients, while the main opposition People Power Party suggested setting up special polling stations for them.
South Korea's daily number of new cases hit a record high of 49,567 for Tuesday, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA). The daily tally has more than doubled in less than a week, and could reach up to 170,000 later this month, the KDCA said.
President Moon Jae-in said on Tuesday there needed to be a measure to ensure all voters can exercise their right to vote.
South Korea, with a 52 million population, has largely been a COVID-19 mitigation success story, with 1,131,239 total infections and 6,943 deaths, thanks largely to masks, distancing and aggressive testing and tracing.
But the government shifted its testing and tracing policy in the face of the Omicron spread in favour of self-monitoring and diagnosis and at-home treatment starting last week.
It also extended strict distancing curbs until Feb 20, including a 9pm curfew for restaurants, cafes and bars.
Nearly 96 per cent of South Korean adults have been fully vaccinated and some 64 per cent have received a booster shot.