MUMBAI (Reuters) – India announced local elections involving millions of voters in a densely packed state even as it reported 86,052 new infections of coronavirus on Friday and remained set to overtake the United States by next month as the world’s worst-affected nation.
The elections in the state of Bihar, with a population roughly the size of Japan, will kick off at the end of October and will be spread over three days, the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) told a news conference.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been pushing to reopen the country and get the economy back on track after a severe lockdown early in March left millions without work.
The government says that, while infections are rising, the country’s overall fatality rate is still low compared with countries such as the United States, Britain and Brazil.
“The elections are a leap of faith, not a leap in the dark,” said CEC Sunil Arora adding that all pandemic rules would be strictly imposed during the three-phase polls in Bihar.
Arora said more than 700,000 units of hand sanitisers, 44.6 million masks, 600,000 personal protective equipment suits, 760,000 face shields, and 2.3 million gloves have been arranged for the polling staff.
The commission would acquire single-use gloves for electors to cast their vote at the polling station.
India has the second-highest number of coronavirus cases globally, behind the United States where infections crossed 7 million on Thursday.
Some countries, such as New Zealand, with much smaller caseloads have delayed elections. Others plan to push ahead, such as Myanmar which is holding a November general election despite opposition calls to postpone because of a fresh outbreak of cases.
India’s coronavirus case tally surged to 5.82 million in the last 24 hours, data from the health ministry showed on Friday.
A total of 1,141 people died of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, the ministry said, taking total deaths to 92,290, which is a relatively low 1.6% of all cases.
Bihar has reported more than 174,000 Covid-19 cases and 878 deaths. The worry is that the impoverished state has one of the country’s weakest public health systems that could easily get overwhelmed in case of a surge, experts say.
(Additional reporting by Derek Francis in Bengaluru; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Alex Richardson)