‘Elections will be safe,’ says Herts public health chief

Local elections are being held across Hertfordshire on Thursday, May 6
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Hertfordshire's public health chief Jim McManus has assured voters that ‘elections will be safe’ in the county, on May 6.

Local elections are being held across Hertfordshire on Thursday, May 6, for councillors and for the Police and Crime Commissioner.

And that means thousands of people are expected to visit the local polling station.

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Mr McManus had initially encouraged the use of postal votes – to reduce the risk of transmission at polling stations.

But with rates of Covid infection continuing to fall, he says he now plans to vote in person, rather than using a postal vote.

And speaking at a press briefing on Tuesday, April 27, Mr McManus said: “It will be very safe to turn up at a polling station.

“I said I would have a postal vote some time ago – but actually I am quite happy to turn up at a polling station.”

Mr McManus said he had initially planned to avoid the polling station to reduce numbers and improve safety, by not adding to the pressure.

But with cases falling and strong election guidance he now stresses, "it will be perfectly safe for people to turn up and vote".

Hand sanitiser, floor markings and the requirement to wear face coverings are among the measures being planned to keep polling stations safe.

And Mr McManus is appealing to every voter to clean their hands on the way in AND the way out, as well as keeping a ‘really safe’ distance at all times.

He also suggests taking a black ink pen to the polling station, to avoid touching a pen that has been used by someone else.

Meanwhile Mr McManus has also defended the decision taken in Hertfordshire to delay the counting of the votes in order to quarantine the ballot papers.

Public health advice for the ‘counts’ in the county – which are organised by district and borough councils – is to quarantine the papers for 24 hours.

That advice is designed to reduce the risk of transmission through handling or from any aerosol particles, that could be generated from the tipping out of large quantities of papers.

In Hertfordshire, only Broxbourne has decided to count within the 24 hour period – starting on Friday morning.

And Mr McManus has defended the county’s ‘very precautionary approach’ to quarantine ballot papers, to give those counting the papers added confidence.

He said: “I think the reason for continuing to quarantine – when we discussed it with the Returning Officer and others – is a lot of staff saying it gives them added confidence.

“A lot of counting staff are in the age where they would be more vulnerable to this if they got it.

“Whilst most of us have now had the first dose of vaccination, there is something about giving staff confidence that we have taken a very precautionary approach.”

Public health chief Jim McManus stresses that anyone with Covid symptoms or who has been told to ‘self-isolate’ MUST stay away from a polling station on May 6.

“If you have symptoms of Covid or have been asked to self-isolate you should not attend the polling station – I can’t stress that enough,” said Mr McManus.

However arrangements are in place for anyone who is a registered voter but who has to self isolate on ‘election day’ to arrange to vote by proxy.

And that can be arranged as late as 5pm on the day of the election by contacting the electoral registration teams.