Pandemic elections: What other countries have voted during COVID-19?

For the first time in Canada’s political history, federal elections are being held during a global pandemic.

When Justin Trudeau called the snap vote last month there was a chorus of outcry from the opposition leaders about the timing of the election in the middle of a fourth wave of COVID-19.

Trudeau has repeatedly defended his decision, saying at a press conference last week that he had absolutely no regrets triggering the election.

Read more: Here’s what’s different about this year’s federal election in Canada

Canada’s example is not the first. In fact, since March 2020, when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), dozens of countries have gone ahead with casting ballots in local and national elections — albeit under tight restrictions and safety protocols.

Dr. Horacio Bach, an infectious diseases expert at the University of British Columbia, said it is safe to hold the elections as long as all the public health guidelines are respected.

“If everyone is continuing (to follow) the guidelines, more than likely the transmissibility will be minimal or close to zero,” he told Global News.

With more than 78 per cent of the eligible population fully vaccinated, Bach said he did not expect a huge spike in cases after the polls, but that is something that will need to be monitored going forward, he said.

Global News took a look at some other nations that voted during COVID-19, what measures were in place and how the results turned out.

Click to play video: 'Majority of Canadians opposed to having an election during pandemic: Poll' 1:51 Majority of Canadians opposed to having an election during pandemic: Poll

Majority of Canadians opposed to having an election during pandemic: Poll

South Korea

In April 2020, South Korea was among the first countries to hold a nationwide vote since the pandemic began.

President Moon Jae-in’s ruling party won an absolute majority in the parliamentary elections that set a record for voter turnout of 66.2 per cent — the highest in almost 30 years.

Strict COVID-19 measures were in place, with authorities disinfecting all 14,000 polling stations and requiring voters to wear masks, have their temperatures checked, use hand sanitizer and plastic gloves, and maintain physical distance from others.

Despite nearly 30 million people coming out to vote, there were zero cases of local transmission related to the elections, according to public health officials.

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Coronavirus outbreak: Scientists explain why some in South Korea tested positive for COVID-19 twice – Apr 16, 2020

Burundi

Following a tense campaign marred by reports of violence, arrests and intimidation, the African nation of Burundi elected a new president in May 2020.

Governing party candidate Evariste Ndayishimiye was declared the winner after clinching 67 per cent of the votes. More than four million people cast their ballot.

Voters were asked to leave after casting their ballot and no gatherings were allowed near polling stations.

Just days before the May 20 poll, the country expelled the national head of the WHO and three members of his team, without giving any reasons.

Serbia

In June 2020, Serbia became the first European country to hold a national election since the continent went into lockdown.

The parliamentary vote was initially planned for April, but was postponed amid COVID-19 concerns.

The ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of president Aleksandar Vučić earned a landslide win with more than 60 per cent of the vote.

Masks were not mandatory but were recommended, and they were made available to voters at polling stations.

Weeks later, authorities declared a state of emergency in the capital Belgrade, re-imposing some restrictions after a surge of infections.

Soccer matches with thousands of fans, religious festivities and parliamentary elections were believed to have contributed to the spike in cases.

Click to play video: 'Pandemic passes two grim milestones in Europe' 2:11 Pandemic passes two grim milestones in Europe

Pandemic passes two grim milestones in Europe – Mar 28, 2020

Sri Lanka

After delaying them twice, Sri Lanka held its parliamentary elections in August 2020 that handed president Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his older brother, Mahinda, an overwhelming majority.

According to the health guidelines issued by the government, parties were advised to limit election rallies to 300 people, which could be expanded to allow 500 people for events attended by party leaders. Door-to-door campaigning was limited to five people.

In the lead up to the polls, the South Asian nation also held a mock election as a trial run of COVID-19 measures, including masks, face shields, physical distancing and voters bringing their own pens and pencils to mark ballot papers.

Sri Lanka voters wearing face mask and washing their hands as precautionary measures against coronavirus before casting their votes outside a polling station during the parliamentary election in Colombo. Photo by Saman Abesiriwardana/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

United States

The COVID-19 pandemic was at the centre of a polarizing election campaign in the United States that saw Democrat Joe Biden defeat his Republican opponent Donald Trump.

More than 91,000 new daily infections were recorded on Nov. 4, taking the nationwide caseload past 9.38 million people.

While many Americans took advantage of expanded access to mail-in voting, lines were long in many polling places across the country.

The 2020 U.S. presidential elections saw a record voter turnout of nearly 158 million — 66.2 per cent of eligible voters, according to a Pew Research Centre analysis.

During the campaign, Trump, a vocal critic of lockdown restrictions, drew sharp criticism from political opponents, voters and health experts for his handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

Click to play video: 'How Biden plans to dramatically shift America’s pandemic response' 3:03 How Biden plans to dramatically shift America’s pandemic response

How Biden plans to dramatically shift America’s pandemic response – Jan 1, 2021

Israel

Israel, a global leader in COVID-19 vaccinations, held parliamentary elections in March of this year.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing allies fell short of winning a parliamentary majority.

After weeks of political deadlock, Israel’s parliament approved a new coalition government in June that sent Netanyahu into the opposition after a record 12 years in office.

Naftali Bennett, the head of a small ultranationalist party, was sworn in as the new prime minister on June 13.

Japan

In April 2021, Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lost all three seats in parliamentary by-elections.

Anger with the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and a slow vaccine rollout contributed to the election outcome, according to analysts.

General elections are set to take place later this year. Prime minister Yoshihide Suga, who replaced Shinzo Abe last year and has seen his approval rating plummet during the pandemic, has announced he will not run.

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Canada’s golden goodbye to the Tokyo Olympics – Aug 8, 2021

Iran

In June, Iranians elected the country’s new president.

Hardline judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi clinched a landslide victory in a vote that saw the lowest turnout in a presidential vote in the Islamic Republic’s history. Some 48.8 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots.

Voter apathy was partly fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging COVID-19 cases.

On election day, poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.

— with files from Reuters, the Associated Press


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