South Korea holds parliamentary election amid Covid-19 pandemic

A media member takes a picture as employees from a disinfection service company sanitise a polling station for upcoming parliamentary election in Seoul, South Korea, April 14, 2020.
A media member takes a picture as employees from a disinfection service company sanitise a polling station for upcoming parliamentary election in Seoul, South Korea, April 14, 2020. © Kim Hong-ji, Reuters

South Koreans voted on Wednesday to elect members of parliament while wearing masks and plastic gloves as part of strict safety measures in one of the first national elections held amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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About 14,000 polling stations were open at 6 a.m. (0900 GMT) around the country after disinfection, and voters were required to wear a mask and have a temperature check upon arrival. Anyone whose temperature was higher than 37.5 Celsius (99.5 Fahrenheit) was led to a special booth.

All voters were required to use hand sanitizer and plastic gloves when casting ballots and maintain 1 metre (40 inches) distance between each other.

The election is set to decide control of parliament and shape President Moon Jae-in's ability to push through his agenda in the final two years of his administration, including looser fiscal policy aimed at creating jobs, raising the minimum wage, and continued re-engagement with North Korea.

Globally, South Korea was one of the first countries to hold a national election since the coronavirus epidemic began, while many others postponed votes.

"I had worries as the election was not delayed, but having come here and seen for myself, I felt it's good we did vote as planned, and people are taking greater caution about distancing and restraining themselves even more," Choi Sun-hwa, 56, told Reuters outside a polling station in Hongje-dong, central Seoul.

Once grappling with the first large outbreak outside China, South Korea has largely managed to bring its cases under control without major disruptions thanks to a massive testing campaign and intensive contact tracing.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 27 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, bringing the total infections to 10,564. The daily tally has hovered around 30 over the past week, most of them from overseas travellers.

But authorities have warned that infections could resurge at any times, calling for special caution on Election Day.

As of 9 a.m. (1200 GMT), voter turnout was 8%, about 0.9% points higher than in the last parliamentary election in 2016, according to the National Election Commission. That excludes nearly 27% of the 44 million registered voters who took part in early voting last weekend.

Among them were about 2,800 coronavirus patients, for whom the NEC allowed voting by mail and set up special polling stations for early voting.

More than 13,000 in self-quarantine have signed up to vote and will be allowed to do so after other voters leave at 6 p.m. (2100 GMT)

The election campaign has taken on a different look, with candidates wearing masks and bumping fists instead of pressing the flesh and mass rallies. 

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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