The Election Commission on Friday issued new guidelines for conducting polls in view of the coronavirus pandemic. The rules will be applicable for both the Assembly and bye-elections.

The poll body said door-to-door campaigns will be allowed only with five people, candidates can file nominations online and that voters will be provided hand gloves. A sufficient number of gloves will also be provided to each official handling the electronic voting machine. The polling officers will be given a safety kit, which will include a mask, face shield, sanitiser and gloves.

All voters will be asked to wear face masks, which they will be asked to remove briefly for identification. “Face masks in reserves for those electors who are not carrying the mask will be kept,” the Election Commission added.

The guidelines also include mandatory sanitisation of polling booths, thermal scanners at entry points of every station and a marker to maintain physical distancing for queues.

The commission said public gatherings and rallies can be conducted by strictly following the coronavirus guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs. “Nodal health officer shall be designated for the state, the district and the assembly constituency to oversee Covid-19 related arrangements and, preventive measures during entire electoral process,” the poll body said. “As far as practicable, training of election officials will be organised in decentralized manner at large halls. Training for election officials may be organised through online mode.”

A sufficient reserve pool of polling, counting and other staff will be maintained by the returning officer to replace those who show symptoms of the coronavirus. “Returning officer’s chamber should have sufficient space to perform the functions of nomination, scrutiny and symbol allocation following social distancing norms,” the guidelines said. “Returning officer should allot staggered time in advance to prospective candidates.”

Meanwhile, the maximum limit of voters inside a polling station has been restricted to 1,000 instead of 1,500 as observed in prior elections. Quarantined coronavirus patients will be allowed to vote at the last hour of poll under supervision of health officials, strictly following preventive measures.

The Bihar Assembly elections are due before the end of the year, and the West Bengal polls early in 2021. Several bye-polls have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic and heavy rainfall. The Election Commission has not yet announced a fresh schedule for these elections.

In July, Opposition parties in Bihar had also asked the poll body to ensure that the elections do not become a “coronavirus super-spreader” event. The Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United) and the Bharatiya Janata Party have not opposed the elections.