South Korea virus patients vote early under quarantine

By: AFP      Published: 04:45 PM, 10 Apr, 2020
South Korea virus patients vote early under quarantine
Election officials wearing protective clothing set up a polling station for absentee voting of the COVID-19 coronavirus patients at a quarantine facility in Gyeongju. AFP

More than 450 South Koreans quarantined at special facilities for coronavirus patients started casting their ballots Friday, as the country kicked off early voting for next week's general election.

South Korea is among the first countries to hold a parliamentary election during the pandemic, with citizens still asked to maintain social distancing after enduring one of the worst early outbreaks of the virus.

Seoul authorities set up polling stations at eight quarantine facilities nationwide -- provided for patients with mild symptoms -- so they can vote without having to leave the premises. At one such facility in the southern city of Gyeongju, patients queued to cast their ballots, spaced at least one metre (three feet) apart and wearing protective masks and disposable plastic coats.

They were asked to wear plastic gloves after washing their hands with a sanitiser. Medical staff also voted. Polling station officials donned full-body protective gear, including goggles. Vice health minister Kim Gang-lip said Friday people who were under self-quarantine -- who are banned from leaving home during the early voting period -- would be able to vote on election day Wednesday with special time slots reserved for them.

More than 5.3 million Koreans cast their ballots Friday -- the first day of the two-day early voting period -- in a record high early voter turnout, Yonhap news agency reported. South Korea was among the first countries to be hit by the virus outside China, where the coronavirus first emerged, and for a time had the world's second-largest outbreak before it was largely brought under control through a widespread testing drive.