Queenslanders told to vote or face fine despite virus threat

The vote comes as confirmed cases in Australia rise above 3,500 with 14 deaths. (Facebook pic/Queensland Health)

SYDNEY: People in the Australian state of Queensland were urged to vote in local elections on Saturday or face a fine of A$133, as polls went ahead despite most citizens being encouraged to stay home to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

The state’s top health official said it was safe to vote in person as long as people followed social distancing guidelines.

“There’s no risk here, we’ve got to remember the risk of people going to the shops is far, far higher,” Jeannette Young told reporters.

Many of the three million eligible voters had cast their ballot early, or remotely by post or telephone.

However long queues were reported outside some booths on Saturday due to safety measures limiting the number of people allowed inside at once. Queuing voters were told to stand 1.5m apart and asked to bring their own pens.

Compulsory voting remained in place, but those who were self-isolating due to illness could apply to have fines waived, state Health Minister Steven Miles said. It was unclear whether healthy people could cite fear of infection as a valid reason for not voting.

The vote came as confirmed virus cases in Australia rose above 3,500 on Saturday, with 14 deaths.

Earlier this week Prime Minister Scott Morrison advised people to stay home unless absolutely necessary as pubs, cinemas and restaurants were closed nationwide.

Funerals can only go ahead with 10 people or fewer and weddings are restricted to five.

“The fact that people can’t attend their own family members’ funerals, yet if you live in Queensland you HAVE to vote in an election this weekend is the actual definition of a joke,” Australian Paralympian Dylan Alcott tweeted on Saturday.

Many others expressed frustration and confusion online at the decision to hold the election, with even some who voted in person questioning the move.

“It seems to be a bit silly to be voting during a global pandemic,” voter Alex Ramsey told local newspaper The Courier Mail.