Spain holds first regional elections since pandemic began
A woman wearing a face mask casts her ballot at a polling station in the northern Spanish Basque city of San Sebastian during the Basque regional elections. AFP
Ruling parties in Spain's Galicia and Basque country were returned to office in the first polls held in the country since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and as new cases spike.
With almost all votes counted, the conservative Popular Party in Galicia and the Basque Nationalist Party had held on to power, according to results published by the governments of both regions on Sunday. People who had tested positive for COVID-19 were not permitted to vote, excluding 420 electors from a total of about 4.5 million across the regions.
Galicia saw a similar voter turnout to previous elections in 2016, although participation fell slightly in the Basque country. Voters wore masks and presented their identity cards to gloved officials, images on public television showed.
More than 70 new outbreaks are currently active in Spain following a drastic drop in the number of cases and deaths in one of the European countries most affected by the pandemic. In the Lerida area of Catalonia at least 200,000 people were ordered back into confinement on Sunday, while 70,000 are in lockdown in Galicia.
The reimposition of restrictions is the first time Spaniards have been confined to their homes since the hard-hit country exited confinement on June 21. The town of Ordizia has been at the centre of a new outbreak in the Basque country.
Spikes in Spain have led several regions to more tightly enforce the compulsory wearing of masks. It is already obligatory to wear a face covering throughout Spain in closed public spaces and outside when it is not possible to maintain a social distance of 1.5 metres.
But Catalonia decided on Thursday to enforce it at all times in public, even when the safety distance can be respected. Spain's Balearic archipelago will also strengthen its rules on the wearing of masks from Monday and other regions such as Andalusia and Aragon plan to follow suit.
In the tourist areas of Catalonia and the Balearics, people bathing or sunbathing on the beach or taking exercise are, however, exempt from wearing a mask. The elections in the Basque country and in Galicia were due to be held on April 5 but were postponed as the virus advanced across Spain, leaving more than 28,400 people dead.