Catalan election underway: Vote taking place amid Covid-19
Polling stations open from 9am to 8pm with specific times for those at risk and in quarantine
Voting is underway in the 2021 Catalan election, with safety measures in place due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Over 5.6 million are eligible to vote, including some 250,000 Catalans living abroad, with polling stations open from 9am to 8pm on Sunday.
During the final hour that polls are open, from 7pm to 8pm, is the time recommended for voters positive with Covid-19, contacts of positive patients, and those suspected of having the virus, to turn up and vote.
Election staff working today have been given personal protective equipment.
Minor delays in polling station set-up
Two out of three polling places across the country opened on time, but some minor delays were reported, especially in Barcelona and its metropolitan area.
At 11.15am the foreign minister, Bernat Solé, whose department is in charge of running the vote, confirmed that all polling places were up and running.
Earlier, at around 10am, Solé made assurances that "today's election will take place as normal" because the incidents reported were typical of any election day. "We're at the same point as in 2017: 97.4% of polling places are set up now, it was 97% at 10am in 2017." he said.
In principle, polling places must be set up by 10am, otherwise voting at that station is delayed for two days according to law, although the Spanish electoral authority has the final say.
The delays and the Covid-19 safety protocols will mean slower counting than usual. Most likely, the outcome will not be clear by around 10pm, as it would be on a normal election night.
At around 5.20pm the electoral board declared that all polling places must close at 8pm, despite some of them not being up and running by the scheduled start time of 9am this morning.
Election amid Covid-19
This is no ordinary election for Catalonia, which has recorded more than 20,000 Covid-related deaths during the pandemic.
The government has assured the public that voting is safe, despite deciding to postpone the election beyond February 14, a decision that was overturned in court.
Safety measures are in place in polling stations, while several larger spaces such as markets and sports centers are being used for the first time to avoid overcrowding. There is also an app 'Eleccions 14F' which can tell voters how busy polling stations are.
In addition, people at higher risk from coronavirus are advised to cast their ballot between 9am and 12 noon, while those in quarantine – around 96,000 according to the Catalan Department of Health – have been told to vote between 7pm and 8pm, during which time election officers will be wearing PPE.
At around 1pm the first official turnout figures showed a significant drop on 2017. An exit poll at 8pm will give an early indication of the electorate's choices.
Within a few hours of the polls closing, the makeup of the next Catalan parliament should be clear, but with nine parties hoping to enter the chamber, that will likely only fire the starting pistol on the talks to form the next government.