South Korea to Temporarily Lift Quarantine for April 15 Election

People wearing face masks to help protect against the spread of the new coronavirus walk at a park in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, April 8, 2020. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it …
AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

South Korea’s National Election Commission (NEC) is in talks with the government to temporarily lift two-week quarantine rules for a few hours on April 15 to allow people in self-isolation for coronavirus to vote.

The government will consider designating a separate time frame for people in self-isolation to cast ballots at polling stations.

“It will be the first time that South Korea will hold elections in the midst of a battle against a massive infectious disease,” Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip told a press briefing on Wednesday. “The government needs to spare no efforts to guarantee the right to vote for those in self-isolation,” Kim added.

According to South Korea’s health ministry, the top priority will be to devise a safety mechanism to prevent other healthy voters from being exposed to the risk of infection at the polls.

Coronavirus patients being treated at hospitals or designated facilities and people in a two-week isolation period at home were able to vote by mail if they applied to do so between March 24 and 28. Roughly 4,000 coronavirus patients receiving treatment were eligible to cast ballots by mail ahead of time, Interior Minister Chin Young said at a briefing on April 2. “We will guarantee the confirmed patients’ right to vote as much as possible,” said Young.

Some 44 million South Koreans will cast ballots on April 15 to elect 300 members of the National Assembly for the next four years. President Moon Jae-in’s ruling left-wing Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) hopes to maintain its majority.

A two-week campaign launched on April 2 with candidates eschewing handshakes and large rallies for masks and social distancing. South Korean lawmaker Lee Hae-sik campaigned by cleaning and disinfecting his local community in the lead up to the election.

The NEC has urged all voters to wear masks and gloves in polling stations and to keep a distance from others there. Officials will run temperature checks at the entrance to voting stations; anyone showing coronavirus symptoms will be sent to vote at a separate booth.

The election on April 15 is a midterm test for President Moon Jae-in, whose government some say has successfully helped slow down the number of new coronavirus cases in the country. The president’s approval ratings have gone up as a result. However, in mid-March, South Korea reported a rise in cases in Seoul and Daegu, triggering fears of a similar spike across the country and casting doubt on the reported slowdown in new cases nationwide.

At press time on Wednesday, South Korea had officially recorded 10,384 infections and 200 deaths from the Chinese coronavirus.

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