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COVID-19: Voters in Spain's Galicia and Basque Country head to polls amid increased security

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Inigo Urkullo, Basque Lehendakari or Regional President, right, wears a face mask while voting in Basque regional elections.
Inigo Urkullo, Basque Lehendakari or Regional President, right, wears a face mask while voting in Basque regional elections.   -   Copyright  Alvaro Barrientos/Associated Press
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Voters in two regions in northern Spain are heading to the polls in delayed elections on Sunday amid tight security measures to avoid more outbreaks of the coronavirus.

Turnout in the Basque Country is significantly lower than the last elections in the region in 2016, with 8.4 per cent fewer people turning out to vote by 5pm, as reported by the Basque Minister of Security, Estefanía Beltrán de Heredia.

If this trend was to continue, it could see the lowest turnout recorded at a regional election in the Basque Country since 1994.

The low turnout could be an opportunity for far-right party Vox or environmentalists Equo to secure their first seat in the Basque Parliament.

Fears of COVID-19 haven't kept voters away in Galicia, with voter turnout only marginally higher at less than half a per cent by 5pm than the previous election in 2016, according to data shared by the Xunta de Galicia, the regional government.

There had been fears of an increased number of abstentions in the votes, which were due to take place on April 5 but were postponed due to the rapid rise of COVID-19 cases.

Health authorities are watching small outbreaks in both regions, as well as in other parts of Spain. Over 28,000 COVID-19 deaths have been confirmed in Spain.

In the Basque Country, there were 28 new positive cases in the last 24 hours, as reported by the Basque Department of Health.

Amaia Arregi, 23, said that she had concerns about voting in Ordizia, a Basque town of under 10,000 residents that is the most worrying hotspot in the Basque Country after the detection of 69 infections in recent days.

“I was a little afraid when I was coming to vote but seeing the security measures in place calmed my nerves,” she said. “The measures taken seem correct to me.”

Regional authorities in both the Basque Country and Galicia have also prohibited over 400 people who have tested positive for the virus from leaving their homes to vote.

Spain’s Supreme Court backed the decision in a ruling on Friday in response to a complaint by opposition parties in both regions.

Voters faced increased security measures to avoid further infections, with a requirement to wear face masks to vote and social distancing measures of 1.5 metres (5 feet) apart in polling stations enforced. Polling stations have also been equipped with hand sanitizers.

The conservative Popular Party in Galicia and the Basque Nationalist Party (EAJ-PNV) are hoping to remain in power in the first elections held in Spain since the start of the pandemic.