Covid-19 SOPs Go For A Toss At Some Polling Stations

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KO Photo: Abid Bhat

Ganderbal– COVID guidelines were flouted at some polling stations in the valley and excitement overtook precautions as enthusiastic voters jostled with each other to cast their ballot in the first elections in Jammu and Kashmir after its reorganisation last year.

Authorities had said necessary COVID measures, including the use of masks and social distancing, have been put in place for ensuring safe polls.

From not maintaining adequate distance while standing in queues waiting for their turn to vote, to basking in the lawns, the voters flouted the pandemic guidelines openly with most of them without face-masks or shields.

Health department personnel were deployed at the polling booths to check the temperatures of the voters and others using infrared thermometers, but sanitisers and masks at the entry points of most of these places were not available.

In Thune area of the district, four booths were clubbed together and housed at a cramped panchayat ghar. While the view outside – of river Sindh and pine-filled and snow-clad mountains in the distance – was beautiful, the sight inside the polling booth was off-putting.

Voters lined up, back-to-back, leaving no space in between, through a dark alley to a small room where the voting took place, without face masks – throwing social distancing and other guidelines to the wind.

Security personnel occasionally asked the voters present to maintain distance.

Similar scenes were witnessed at Government Higher Secondary School in Hariganiwan area – where four polling booths were clubbed, Government Primary School at Haaknaar and Government Middle School at Rayil Gund – which housed seven polling booths. All these polling stations saw rush of people.

The pleas of officials and even mediamen present had no impact on the voters and it seemed the pandemic was a thing of the past.

At the Rayil Gund booth, while dozens of the voters were waiting in line, without maintaining the social distance, several dozens of others were basking in the lawn and without face masks.

Police personnel deployed there blamed the agents of candidates for flouting the guidelines even as they repeatedly asked the people to keep distance and wear face masks.

Fayaz Chopan, a local near the booth, said the excitement of voting trumped the need to follow protocols.

“We do not have many positive cases here, so people are not taking much precaution. And there is excitement among the voters and they are only concerned about the voting right now,” Chopan said.

A stark contrast to other polling stations was Government Higher Secondary School at Gund where the COVID protocols very followed visibly.

At the entry point of the polling station – where six booths were clubbed – an official was sprinkling sanitiser on the hands of everyone who entered inside, while also providing the face masks.

The voters were lined up keeping some distance in between and everyone wore masks. Many polling personnel even wore hand gloves.

An official said it was necessary to follow the protocols for everyone’s safety and the polling staff had stressed on the need to maintain social distance and the use of face masks.

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