The Election Commission has written to the five poll-bound states in the country urging them to ramp up the pace of Covid-19 vaccination, The Indian Express reported on Monday.

Elections are expected to be held in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur in February or March. The elections in Uttar Pradesh is politically significant as the state has the most number of Lok Sabha seats that play a crucial role in General Elections.

In a letter to the chief secretaries of the states, the commission said poll personnel in these states should be fully vaccinated, and persons eligible for second doses must be administered the shots on priority, PTI quoted anonymous officials as saying.

The panel also expressed concern about the low first dose coverage in Manipur.

Last week, Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra had led a team to Uttar Pradesh to assess the situation and meet representatives of political parties. This was after the Allahabad High Court requested the Election Commission to postpone the upcoming Assembly elections due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

Chandra had said that all political parties in Uttar Pradesh unanimously agreed that the Assembly polls in the state should be conducted as per schedule while following coronavirus protocol.

To a question on whether the Election Commission would consider postponing the election, the official said that the panel will execute the responsibility given to it under the Constitution. “While executing that responsibility, whatever will be required to consider – either rising Covid numbers or managing the increasing rallies – elections will be announced after taking that into consideration,” he said, according to The Indian Express.

All political parties have started their campaign for the Assembly elections despite the rising number of infections in the country. There has already been lack of Covid-appropriate behaviour during these events, triggering criticism.

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West Bengal poll panel bars large rallies

Meanwhile, the West Bengal State Election Commission said it will not allow large rallies or road shows ahead of elections to four municipal corporations, PTI reported. The panel allowed small teams of up to five people to carry out door-to-door campaigning.

It has allowed a maximum of 500 people to attend political party meetings in open spaces, and 200 people, or up to 50% seating capacity, to attend such meetings in halls.

Elections to the civic bodies in Bidhannagar, Chandannagar, Siliguri and Asansol will be held on January 22.

Election during second wave

In 2020, Assembly elections in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry were held during a devastating second wave of the coronavirus.

While the country battled with a record surge in Covid-19 cases for weeks and hospitals ran out of beds and oxygen, politicians held election rallies attended by thousands, with little to no physical distancing or usage of masks.

Nowhere was this more evident than West Bengal, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah held massive rallies until the Election Commission finally banned all roadshows and limited gatherings to 500 people amid the worsening situation.

Critics also questioned the Election Commission’s decision to hold elections in eight phases in Bengal during a pandemic. But, the poll panel claimed that it was too late to reduce the length of the elections.

The Madras High Court had pulled up the Election Commission, saying that it should be booked on charges of murder for allowing rallies to continue in poll-bound states.

“Your institution is singularly responsible for the second wave of the pandemic,” a bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy had told the Election Commission in April.