England local polls to go ahead despite pandemic concerns

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Local and Mayoral elections in England will take place as scheduled in May despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, but voters will be asked to bring their own pens to mark their ballots in an effort to help curb the virus, the government has announced.

People will be asked to bring their own pen or pencil and those voting in a polling station will have to wear a mask, Xinhua news agency quoted the government as saying in a statement issued on Friday.

Polling booths must also be designed to ensure “maximum ventilation”, the government statement said, adding that those who are shielding will be encouraged to vote by post.

Hand sanitiser, divider screens, and social distancing markers will also be provided at polling stations, while new measures to reduce travel for potential candidates when completing their nomination forms will be introduced.

Previously, the government had said the elections, scheduled for May 6, were under review amid the pandemic.

Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith

But Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith confirmed on Friday they will go ahead, arguing “democracy should not be cancelled because of Covid”.

The decision also came as the UK’s coronavirus reproduction number, known as the R number, has dropped to between 0.7 and one.

The elections will be held for 24 county councils; 127 unitary, district and borough councils; 13 directly elected mayors in England; and 40 police and crime commissioners in England and Wales.

As of Saturday, the pandemic has so far infected 3,922,910 people in the UK. It is the fourth highest caseload in the world after the US, India and Brazil.

Meanwhile, the country’s death toll has hovered to 111,477, the fifth largest number of fatalities after the US, Brazil, Mexico and India.