Omicron scare: EC decision on postponing assembly polls likely today
The Election Commission of India (ECI) will hold a meeting with senior officials of the Union Health Ministry on Monday to discuss the prevailing COVID-19 situation ahead of assembly elections in five states. The meeting was reportedly scheduled to start at 11 am on Monday and will be attended by Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan.
- State assembly elections are due in five states: Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand.
- The development comes as India is witnessing a gradual increase in COVID-19 cases involving the Omicron variant.
- India's Omicron tally has reached 578 within a month.
- Last week, the Allahabad High Court had requested the EC to postpone polls in UP.
Reportedly, the EC is likely to seek updates from Bhushan about the prevailing COVID-19 situation and the emergence of the Omicron variant. The commission may also seek suggestions from Bhushan on improving its COVID-19 protocol for poll campaigning, polling days, and the dates for counting. The EC is reportedly expected to announce election dates next month.
Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra said on Friday that his team would visit UP this week to review the COVID-19. It will then make an "appropriate" decision about the elections. Chandra's statement came in response to the Allahabad HC's request to postpone the state polls. Notably, the EC has already visited Punjab, Goa, and Uttarakhand as part of its pre-poll stock-taking exercise.
Last week, the Allahabad HC had urged the EC to postpone UP assembly polls by one-two months due to Omicron. "If rallies are not stopped, the results will be worse than the second wave," Justice Shekhar Yadav had said. The HC also urged PM Narendra Modi and the EC to immediately ban rallies and public meetings of political parties in the state.
Separately, the Union Health Ministry has also sent multidisciplinary teams to UP and Punjab to assess the situation and suggest remedial actions. The teams will have to submit a report daily by 7 pm. The teams are tasked with looking at contact tracing, COVID-19 testing, enforcement of COVID-19 appropriate behavior, availability of hospital beds, ventilators, and medical oxygen, and progress in vaccination.
Meanwhile, India's Omicron tally has reached 578 after 156 new infections involving the variant were detected on Sunday. Maharashtra and Delhi topped the list of worst-hit states with 141 and 142 cases, respectively. The number of states and union territories that have reported these infections has now touched 19. A total of 151 patients infected with Omicron have been discharged so far.