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Czechs in COVID quarantine head to drive-in polling stations for regional vote

BEROUN, Czech Republic, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Thousands of Czechs quarantining at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic were allowed to vote at drive-in polling stations on Wednesday in a regional and upper house election which comes amid a surge in infections in the country.

The Czech Republic’s spike in virus cases is the second largest in Europe this month when adjusted for population, with more than 40,000 cases in September bringing the total tally to 67,843 in the country of 10.7 million.

This weekend’s regional election could be an early gauge of support for Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s handling of the second wave of the virus. Support for his party in opinion polls has ticked lower amid criticism over his perceived reluctance to bring back tough measures and other policy inconsistencies hurting public trust.

The state set aside one day for those in quarantine to vote from their cars at one of 78 special drive-in polling stations, which were built and manned by more than 1,600 soldiers.

Voters were not allowed out of cars.

“It is better than not voting,” said Petr, who gave only his first name while voting in Beroun, 32 km west of Prague.

The country passed through the first wave with far fewer cases than western neighbours but it came at an economic cost with the shutdown of schools, restaurants and businesses.

While the election for regional governments and a third of seats in parliament’s upper house Senate is likely to draw only weak turnout, it could begin to signal some new alliances forming before a parliamentary election next year.

Regular voting begins on Friday and ends on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. (1200 GMT).

In a September poll from STEM agency, support for Babis’s ANO party fell to 28.4%, from 33.7% in May. The opposition Pirates, in second position, were steady at 12.8% and the opposition centre-right Civic Democrats (ODS) had 10.6%.

** Interactive graphic on political polls: tmsnrt.rs/341YW5C

Reporting by Jiri Skacel and Jason Hovet Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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