EC banks on vaccination for ‘Covid-safe’ polls

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New Delhi: The Election Commission is relying on enhanced vaccination of both polling personnel and voters to deliver a ‘Covid-safe’ election in five states amid a surge in coronavirus cases in the country driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra on Saturday said he has asked the chief secretaries of poll-bound states to accelerate vaccination of all citizens above 18 years and ensure precautionary dose for all poll officials who have been designated as frontline workers.

Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa will be held between February 10 and March 7 in seven phases with the counting of votes on March 10, the poll panel announced on Saturday.

“We can’t say Corona is only because of the elections… We have ensured that most people are vaccinated. The situation is dynamic and we are monitoring it,” he replied when concerns were raised over holding elections in the middle of a pandemic.

Chandra said COVID-19 cases were increasing rapidly in Maharashtra and Karnataka where no election has been scheduled.

“There is no need to panic, but there is a need for caution. Polling officials and booths are safe,” the chief election commissioner said while urging voters to come out in huge numbers to exercise their franchise.

“As on January 7, in Goa, more than 95.8 per cent of people have been vaccinated with both doses. In Uttarakhand, 99.67 per cent of people have got their first dose and 82.39 per cent have got the second dose,” Chandra said.

The chief election commissioner said that in Uttar Pradesh, 89.35 per cent population had been administered the first dose and more than 52 per cent have been fully vaccinated.

“In Punjab, 81.9 per cent have been given the first dose of vaccine and 45.6 per cent covered by both doses. In Manipur, 59.6 per cent had been jabbed with the first dose while 44.8 per cent had been administered both shots.”

He said that in absolute figures, as of January 7, more than 15 crore people in these five states together have got the first dose of vaccine and more than nine crore had been administered both doses.

Vaccination coverage in poll-bound states have improved after the intervention of the commission, Chandra said.

As the third wave of the pandemic reared its head again with the emergence of the latest ‘variant of concern’ of coronavirus, the poll panel held meetings with the health and home secretaries and also with health experts.

“After taking all their views and assessing the ground situation, the commission decided to announce elections in the five states,” Chandra said.

He said district electoral officers have been asked to appoint a nodal officer for each counting centre to ensure compliance with COVID-19 guidelines.

There should be no public gathering outside the counting venue, the poll panel said, but allowed candidates to appoint or replace counting agents if they turn out Covid positive.

“Anybody violating instructions on Covid measures will be liable to be proceeded against as per the provisions of Section 51 to 60 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, besides legal action under Section 188 of the IPC, and other legal provisions as applicable, as specified in Order No. 40-3/2020-DM-I(A) dated 25th November 2020 of Ministry of Home Affairs,” the commission said.

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