South Korea holds elections under strict safety measures amid coronavirus pandemic

Media members cover inside a polling station for upcoming parliamentary election in Seoul, South Korea, April 14, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji - RC254G97KGMX

Strict measures have been put in place to ensure voter safety. Image: REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

Hyonhee Shin
Journalist, Reuters
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  • South Korea is holding its parliamentary elections, despite the on-going coronavirus pandemic.
  • Strict safety measures have been introduced to ensure voters' safety and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the country.
  • Voters have their temperature checked on arrival and must wear masks and gloves.
  • South Korea has largely managed to contain its outbreak of coronavirus, reporting just over 10,000 confirmed cases, among its population of 51 million.

South Koreans began going to the polls on 15th April to elect members of parliament, 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 must use hand sanitizer and plastic gloves when casting ballots and maintain 1 metre (40 inches) distance between each other.

A voter wearing plastic gloves casts a ballot at a polling station during the parliamentary election, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID19) pandemic, in Seoul, South Korea, April 15, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Plastic gloves are mandatory for voters. Image: REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

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 the 14th of April, 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.

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