Safety first for Spaniards voting amid new coronavirus outbreaks

BILBAO (Reuters) — Voters in northern Spain wore face masks and used hand sanitizer gel before entering polling stations on Sunday as Galicia and the Basque Country held regional elections while fighting localized outbreaks of COVID-19.

The polls are the first in Spain since the country began a strict lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus in early March. Both were postponed from April because of the pandemic.

Bilbao, the Basque region’s largest city, has increased the number of polling stations by 25 percent to ensure social distancing can be maintained. Voters and polling station workers are required to wear facial protection and wash their hands.

Authorities have said more than 460 people across the two regions who recently tested positive for the coronavirus will be unable to vote. People awaiting test results are also barred from leaving their homes.

“People with active coronavirus infections […] cannot attend activities in person. They would be breaching public health laws,” Basque regional health chief Nekane Murga said on Saturday.

Local health officials have confirmed at least 161 COVID-19 cases in the Basque Country and more than 300 in Galicia.

While postal ballots are allowed, authorities could not say how many people in isolation had made such arrangements.

Fresh coronavirus outbreaks have triggered local lockdowns in the Basque Country, Galicia and Catalonia.

Andalusia, one of Spain’s top holiday destinations, will on Monday consider making it compulsory to wear a face mask in public, regional leader Juan Manuel Moreno said on Saturday, citing “fear” of tourists who were not wearing masks.

He said there were 109 cases of COVID-19 in the region and the situation was “under control”.

Catalonia recorded nine deaths and 361 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, health authorities said.

The region made face masks compulsory on Wednesday, a move that was followed by the Balearic Islands and Extremadura.


Reporting by Graham Keeley; Additional reporting by Vincent West; Editing by Catherine Evans

Image: Workers organize papers at a polling station before the start of the voting during the Basque regional elections, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Durango, Spain July 12, 2020. (REUTERS/Vincent West)

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