The Election Commission on Wednesday made it mandatory for candidates to show either a coronavirus negative test report or that they have been fully vaccinated against the infection to be allowed inside vote counting halls.

Elections have been conducted in Assam, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The eighth and final phase of polling in West Bengal will take place on Thursday. Vote counting for all these states and the Union Territory will be held on May 2.

On Wednesday, the Election Commission issued a set of guidelines in view of the coronavirus situation in the country and to ensure safety during vote counting. In the order, the poll panel also said the district election officer will be the nodal officer at the counting centres and will ensure adherence to the coronavirus-related norms.

“The counting hall should be sufficiently big to maintain social distancing, and should have proper ventilation, windows, exhaust fan etc. as per available protocol of [respective] SDMA [State Disaster Management Authority],” the poll panel said.

It said that the halls should be disinfected before, during and after the counting and also asked to ensure that electronic voting machines or voter-verified paper audit trail used to cast ballots are sanitised. “No public gathering outside the counting venue shall be allowed during the process of counting,” the order said.

Masks, sanitisers, face shields and gloves will be given to counting officials and security personnel. “There shall be sufficient number of PPE [personal protective equipment] kit for counting agents/candidates,” the order said. “The counting agents sitting arrangement shall be made in such a way that between 2 counting agents 1 agent shall be in PPE.”

On Tuesday, the Election Commission had banned all victory processions by political parties after the results are announced. The decision came after Madras High Court on Monday said that the EC should be booked on charges of murder for allowing rallies to continue in poll-bound states amid the prevailing pandemic situation.

In its Wednesday order, the poll panel claimed that it had followed strict Covid-19 guidelines while conducting the elections. However, the poll body had faced criticism for not doing enough to curb election rallies and other forms of campaigns even as the second wave of coronavirus led to unprecedented levels of cases in the country.

On April 22, the Election Commission had banned all roadshows, cycle or bike rallies for the seventh and eighth phases of the Assembly elections in West Bengal, only hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi cancelled his rallies scheduled for the next day.

On Wednesday, India registered a record 3,60,960 new coronavirus cases in a day, taking the total number of infections since the pandemic broke out in January 2020 to 1,79,97,267. This is the highest ever single-day rise in cases reported by any country so far, and the seventh consecutive day when the country has recorded more than 3 lakh cases.

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