This weekend’s local government elections in Queensland will go ahead despite a massive public backlash from health experts and voters as Australians are told to stay home to halt the spread of coronavirus.
The Electoral Commission of Queensland insists it’s ‘perfectly safe’ for voters to head to the polls this Saturday, despite the rapidly growing pandemic.
Of the 2,368 confirmed cases in Australia, 443 are in Queensland.
The electoral commission cited advice from the state’s Chief Health Officer that the 77 council elections should go ahead, despite a national ban on gatherings of 500 people outdoors and 100 indoors.
Queenslanders will cop a $135 fine if they don’t vote, unless they have unless a valid reason.
Queenslanders have expressed their outrage about being forced to head to the polls this weekend as the coronavirus continues to spread (stock image)
The ECQ insists it carefully considered the impact of coronavirus before it agreed to proceed.
‘This is on the basis that: the elections facilitate an essential service by providing for continuity of democratic representation for Queenslanders; and measures will be put in place at polling places to limit the number of people inside the building to fewer than 100,’ the commission states on its website.
Another recent post on its Facebook page adds: ‘Voting allows local government to form so that they can make decisions about providing essential services to the community – waste, transport, and community services. People need their governments now more than ever.’
The ECQ has been inundated with criticism on its Facebook page in recent days.
On Wednesday, the ECQ posted a video urging voters to bring their own pen or pencil on Saturday, to keep the required 1.5 metres from each other and to use hand sanitiser.
The post sparked anger from furious voters, who renewed calls for the elections to be postponed.
‘This is an unnecessary and dangerous risk to everyone’s health and safety. Please postpone the elections or make other options available. It is socially irresponsible to continue,’ one voter commented.
The Electoral Commission of Queensland Facebook page has been inundated with public backlash (pictured) in recent days after proceeding with the local council elections
Another added: ‘We need to do literally everything we can at the moment to prevent Queensland and Australia from experiencing the devastation currently happening in Italy & other countries. It is extremely risky and dangerous to proceed with these elections as currently planned.’
Queensland-based Dr Ellinor Johnston emailed the ELC on Monday expressing serious concerns about the risk the elections will pose by potentially exposing a large proportion of the population to the deadly virus.
Her desperate plea has since been posted on Facebook.
‘We have seen widespread social distancing measures put into effect across all states and territories around Australia. The upcoming election is in complete contradiction to that,’ Dr Johnston wrote.
‘Despite that, you are asking the entire community come out AT ONCE to place their votes. Hand hygiene will not be enough. Keeping people 1.5m away from each other will not be enough.
‘I am concerned for myself and my family. I am concerned for our volunteers. And I am deeply concerned about the impact this will have on the health and well-being of Queenslanders.’
The Electoral Commission of Queensland insists it’s ‘perfectly safe’ to vote on Saturday (stock)
Griffith University’s Infectious Diseases & Immunology Program Professor Nigel McMillan fears workers at polling stations are most at risk.
‘I would urge every one to bring their own pen and observe the distancing rules we have,’ Prof McMillan told AAP.
‘I am really hoping they have hand sanitiser stations at every polling booth.’
As of Tuesday night, one third of Queenslanders have pre-voted or opted to post their votes.
QUT public health emeritus professor Gerry Fitzgerald, a former Queensland chief health officer believes there will be not exceptional risk if voters heed the recommended precautions.
‘Without substantial community transmission, it’s not risk free of course, but the risk can be managed reasonably,’ he told the Courier Mail.
‘As long as there’s reasonable social distance the risk should not be significantly enhanced.’
Australian Medical Association Queensland president Dilip Dhupelia called for more empathy and for voting fines to be waived.
‘Under these warlike conditions, there should be some compassion,’ he told the publication.
Griffith University’s Infectious Diseases & Immunology Program director Professor Nigel McMillan (pictured) has grave fears about the risk to polling booth workers