EC to decide on rally relaxations after meeting Union Health Ministry officials, chief secys; vaccination rate Key

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The Election Commission on Saturday will hold meetings with the Union health ministry and chief secretaries of the five poll-bound states to decide on any relaxation on public rallies. It is likely to link campaign relaxations with the vaccination rate and Covid-19 hospitalisation rate in each state, ET has learnt.

It had earlier barred all public rallies in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur and Punjab until January 15 in view of the Omicron threat. It had also asked these states to expedite vaccinations before announcement of the election schedule.

ET gathers that the progress on vaccination will be key to allowing rally relaxations. The EC’s aim is to have maximum voters vaccinated before the election is held.

Manipur, Punjab and UP were of concern on their vaccination coverage. The states are learnt to have informed the EC that all measures are being taken to increase vaccination coverage significantly.

For instance, the first dose coverage in UP has increased from 88% to 90% in a week. However, the Covid-19 positivity rate in the five states – which was in the 0.24- 2% range last week – has started moving up, as ET reported on Friday.

The EC will, therefore, be taking a full review in a virtual meeting with the Union health secretary to get an accurate picture of the situation. While state government feedback has indicated that hospitalisation is low so far on account of Covid-19, the poll panel will seek detailed data from them before deciding on any rally relaxations after January 15.

Incidentally, the poll panel has only received a single representation from a political party objecting to virtual rallies, from Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM. None of the other parties have officially raised the issue on curtailed public rallies with the poll panel.

In a meeting with 1,400 general, police and expenditure observers to be deployed for the upcoming elections on Friday, CEC Sushil Chandra reminded them on the need for “strict enforcement of extant Covid guidelines”, besides keeping a close watch on illegal money flow and any lapses in the model code of conduct.

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