South Koreans vote despite global pandemic
Host of safety measures in place as elections go on amid virus threat
SEOUL: Temperature checks on voters, separate booths for those with fever, and special polling times for the quarantined: South Koreans headed to the polls yesterday with a huge turnout despite the coronavirus threat.
Voter turnout of 65.1 per cent was higher than any parliamentary elections in the country's democratic history, according to the National Election Commission.
South Korea is among the first countries with a major virus outbreak to hold a national election since the global pandemic began, and a raft of safety measures were in place around the ballot.
The parliamentary poll - widely expected to bolster the ruling Democratic party's position - kicked off at 6am(5am Singapore time) with 43.9 million voters eligible to cast ballots.
Voters in obligatory masks lined up at least 1m apart outside polling stations and had their temperatures checked before being allowed in.
All had to clean their hands with sanitiser and don plastic gloves, while those nursing fevers cast their ballots in separate booths that were disinfected after each use.
"It is done very well," said 80-year-old voter Kim Gwang-woo. "Because of the coronavirus, people are keeping their distance and everyone is wearing gloves."
South Korea was among the first countries to be hit by the disease outside China, where the coronavirus emerged.
For a time, the country had the world's second-largest outbreak, before it was largely brought under control through widespread testing and a contact-tracing drive, along with widely observed social distancing.
SPECIAL POLLING STATIONS
Those under self-quarantine at home were scheduled to vote immediately after the polls' 6pm close, as long as they do not show virus symptoms. They would have to return to their residences by 7pm.
Special polling stations were set up at eight central quarantine facilities at the weekend to enable the confined to vote.
But anyone staying at home and who developed symptoms would be effectively disenfranchised.
Campaigning was naturally affected by the outbreak.
Instead of the traditional handshakes and distribution of name cards, candidates kept their distance from citizens, bowing and offering an occasional fist bump.
Many turned to online media such as YouTube and Instagram to connect with voters, while some even volunteered to disinfect parts of their constituencies.
A survey conducted by Gallup Korea last week showed that only 27 per cent of respondents were reluctant to vote due to the epidemic. - AFP