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Millions vote in Indonesia as experts warn of surge in infections

Over 100 million registered for the polls as nation records highest daily death toll

JAKARTA: Millions of Indonesians yesterday voted in regional elections that health experts have warned could spark new coronavirus clusters.

More than 100 million people were registered to vote in the polls, a mammoth logistical task even without a pandemic, with nearly 300,000 polling stations across 24 districts and 37 cities.

The vote in the world's third-biggest democracy comes as Indonesia struggles to contain South-east Asia's worst Covid-19 outbreak, with more than 592,000 infections and 18,000 deaths.

Yesterday, it recorded its highest daily death toll of 171, but voter enthusiasm did not seem to have been significantly dampened in many areas.

"Of course, we are all worried during this pandemic, but as a good citizen of this country, I want to participate," said Ms Rusdiana Jarkasih, who voted in Depok in West Java, as volunteers handed out gloves and checked temperatures.

The regional polls had been pushed back once but the government ignored calls from health experts and Islamic groups for a second postponement.

Epidemiologist Pandu Riono warned that with about 100 million Indonesians active at the same time "it's very likely that new clusters will emerge".

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But chief security minister, Mr Mahfud MD, disputed such assessments.

"There is no real link between the amount of Covid infections and the regional elections as shown in the data we've seen," he said.

While some countries in the region, including South Korea and Singapore, appear to have held elections successfully during the pandemic, Malaysia attributed a spike in cases to an election in its second-largest state of Sabah.

Meanwhile, Malaysia's Health Ministry director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah said a much-anticipated Covid-19 vaccine need not be halal in order to be administered in the country, allaying concerns among local Muslims about the shots containing substances forbidden by Islam.

"If they can get the halal certification that would be better, but we do not register a medicine based on halal status. We do register non-halal medicine too," Dr Noor Hisham told The Straits Times.

Malaysia yesterday reported 959 infections, taking the total to 76,265. There were five deaths, taking the total to 393. - REUTERS

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