BARCELONA (Reuters) – Freelance photographer Jordi Saragossa is so concerned about the risk of contracting COVID-19 in Catalonia’s regional election on Sunday that he tried – and failed – to be discharged from mandatory monitoring duty and says he will sue if he gets ill.
Like him, around a third of people chosen by a draw to be election supervisors have asked to be exempted, despite assurances from authorities in the northeastern Spanish region that they could be tested for COVID-19 prior to the vote and given protective equipment to wear at polling stations.
“I would sue saying that I had warned them beforehand and that they should cover that cost,” the 32-year-old said, referring to the up to 3,000-euro losses he would expect to incur for his business were he to catch the virus.
His discharge request was denied by the electoral board because his justification of a potential economic impact was not legally considered a proper reason, he said.
“There’s obviously an infection risk. It’s obvious that there is not a zero risk despite (authorities) saying it will be very safe,” he said.
Catalonia’s election is viewed as a litmus test for the region’s separatist movement. Two pro-independence parties currently govern the region, but opinion polls are split on who could win this time.
Spain has been among the worst-hit countries by the pandemic, although the average number of cases per 100,000 people in Catalonia in the last 14 days fell to 391 on Wednesday, down from a peak of over 620 in mid-January.
‘OUTRAGE AND FEAR’
Bernat Sole, Catalonia’s government official in charge of the election, said on Wednesday he wanted to transmit a “message of calm and security” regarding polling stations.
Election supervisors will be provided with two FFP2 masks, a face screen, gloves and alcohol gel.
In the specific voting time slot recommended for people who have a confirmed or suspected coronavirus infection, they will also have full-body medical gowns.
To minimize risks, close to 300,000 people – of the 5.5 million potential voters – have requested to vote by mail, a 350% rise from the 2017 election.
“It wouldn’t seem the most sensible thing to go voting there (at a polling station),” Omar Tubau, a 33-year-old cinema worker, said as he was voting at a post office.
The regional government had planned to move the election to May, citing an increasing pace of COVID-19 infections, but a court annulled the move, saying it lacked legal grounds.
Octavi Bisquert, 37, a company manager with diabetes, said he had suffered panic attacks when told he had been chosen to supervise a polling station, before the electoral board accepted his doctor’s request for him to be excluded.
“I felt a huge outrage and fear,” he said, stressing he had been working from home for a year with barely any social contact.
Reporting by Joan Faus, additional reporting by Luis Felipe Castilleja; Writing by Joan Faus; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Janet Lawrence