Dutch government: Coronavirus measures in place at elections

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Social distancing and hygiene measures to rein in the spread of the coronavirus will be in force for upcoming Dutch local and national elections, the government announced Tuesday, creating a possible headache for local authorities who have to organize the voting.

Dutch voters are scheduled to cast their ballots March 17 next year in a national election for the 150 members of the lower house of parliament.

“Corona will almost certainly still be among us for upcoming elections. But by taking measures these elections can be organized so that it is safe for voters to vast their ballot and for polling office staff to do their work,” said Interior Minister Kajsa Ollongren.

Booths will be arranged so that voters can maintain the government’s recommended 1.5-meter (5-foot) social distancing and extra equipment will be provided including screens to shield staff and disinfectant to clean the booths and pencils used to mark ballot papers.

The government said it is drawing up legislation to clear the way for some of the measures, and earmarked 30 million euros ($36 million) to help municipalities cover the increased costs. The new measures mean that not all the usual voting locations will be suitable.

The new measures will be implemented Oct. 21 during local elections on the tiny Caribbean island of St. Eustatius, which is classified as a Dutch municipality. There are also two local elections in the Netherlands on Nov. 18 before the nationwide parliamentary vote on March 17.

The Dutch public health institute said Tuesday that the number of new coronavirus infections over the past week was almost unchanged from the previous week at 3,597. Around 2.2% of the 163,000 people who were tested during the week were positive for the virus; last week the percentage of positive tests was 2.5%.

The Dutch COVID-19 death toll since the global pandemic began stands at 6,230.

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