The Election Commission on Friday wrote to political parties warning them that it could ban poll rallies and campaigns if Covid-19 safety protocols are not followed, the Hindustan Times reported.

The poll body’s notice came a day before fourth phase of elections in West Bengal. However, elections in three states and one Union Territory concluded earlier this week, amid a massive surge in coronavirus cases in the country.

“Instances of election meetings/campaigns have come to the notice of the Commission, where norms of social distancing, wearing of masks, etc, have been flouted...,” the Election Commission said.

The Election Commission noted that political leaders, including star campaigners, were not observing Covid-19 protocols and said that by doing so, were exposing themselves and the people attending those events “to the grave danger of infection”. The election body added that it has observed instances where political leaders were found not wearing masks on stages at rallies or during campaigns.

“The Commission, in cases of breach, will not hesitate in banning public meetings, rallies etc. of the defaulting candidates/star campaigners/political leaders without any further reference,” it said.

The country has witnessed a huge surge of coronavirus cases in the last few weeks, with the count of daily infections breaching the one lakh-mark on four of the last five days. The active caseload has reached nearly 10 lakh. The central government has so far chosen not to impose a nationwide lockdown to contain the latest surge, but has asked states to decide on imposing local restrictions.

On Thursday, the Delhi High Court sought a response from the Centre and the Election Commission on a plea seeking directions to make it mandatory for participants to wear masks at campaigns for the Assembly elections. The petitioner had initially filed a plea in March, seeking directions to debar candidates from campaigning and fine them for violating coronavirus guidelines during the elections, sought an urgent hearing on the case.