Bypolls: Health officials in a quandary as people flout COVID-19 protocol


They are under pressure to implement control measures but are finding it hard to stop crowding

With a little over two weeks left for the bypolls, health officials in the election-bound constituencies of R.R. Nagar in Bengaluru Urban and Sira in Tumakuru district are in a quandary. While there is pressure on them to ensure strict COVID-19 control measures, they are finding it hard to stop crowding during nomination filing and roadshows, which are going on as it was during pre-COVID-19 times.

As per the Election Commission’s guidelines, although not more than 200 people can gather in closed spaces and not more than 15 persons per gunta in open spaces, no political party is following this. While social distancing is not being maintained, even masks are not being worn properly, officials said.

A senior official from Tumakuru district said there was pressure on the district health administration from higher officials in the department to ensure strict containment and control measures. This, especially because the number of days taken to double COVID-19 cases in this district is 33 — way below the State average of 39 days. Also, the Case Fatality Rate (CFR) here is 1.7%, which is higher than the State average of 1.2%. At 13.2%, the test positivity rate (TPR) here is also high.

“We have regular videoconferences where our higher officials pull us up for the rising cases. On an average, we have been seeing around 200 cases every day. In Sira, till Friday we have had around 200 active cases and 10 deaths so far. Now, with the election fever picking up, we are finding it hard to control the crowding. Even those under home quarantine are part of the crowds,” said the official.

The situation is no different in R.R. Nagar. This constituency that has one containment ward as of Friday contributes 11% of the total cases in Bengaluru Urban. On an average, over 330 cases are being reported from this zone daily in the last 10 days.

Bengaluru Urban DHO G. Srinivas said people are careless. “Although public meetings are yet to start here, crowds in the roadshows indicate that people are least bothered. They are ready to pay a fine for not wearing a mask rather than safeguarding themselves,” he said.

Set an example

COVID-19 experts said political leaders should set an example for appropriate behaviour.

“It is very difficult to do away with campaigning in elections. However, it is essential for political leaders to not only follow COVID-19-appropriate behaviour but also set an example as role models for such behaviour. The candidates will have to ensure that they refuse to address/meet people in closed spaces, do not contribute to crowds, and reduce the close-contact settings,” said Giridhara R. Babu, member of the State’s COVID-19 Technical Advisory Committee.

He said they should set an example by wearing masks all the time during campaigning.

“Areas where bypolls are being held are currently witnessing a surge in cases and hence the candidates must ensure that they protect the vulnerable in these areas. As part of their election campaign, candidates can showcase how their leadership will help promote testing in their constituency, ensure timely referral, and save lives. It is time to demonstrate by actions, not words, as speaking aloud may spread the virus,” he asserted.

Three notices

The State Election Commission has issued three notices for COVID-19 protocol violations in Sira. “We have been closely monitoring the election activities and notices are being issued for violations. People should realise the seriousness of the pandemic and follow rules strictly,” said State Chief Electoral Officer Sanjiv Kumar.

He said the commission was hopeful of a good voter turnout. “Response in local elections held in other States during the pandemic has been good and we expect the same in Karnataka,” he added.

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