NEW DELHI, May 2 (Xinhua) -- Counting of votes for local elections began Sunday morning in India's Assam, West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, officials said.
The counting began at 8:00 a.m. local time in all five places and would continue until all the votes are counted.
"Results will be released in phases and constituency-wise and accordingly a picture of who is actually winning would emerge," an Election Commission of India (ECI) official said.
Local elections in these states were held from March 27 to April 29.
Meanwhile, counting of votes for bypolls to four Lok Sabha, or the lower house of the India parliament, and 12 Assembly (local elections) seats in different states is also underway, the official said.
Voting in West Bengal was held in eight phases. In Assam voting was conducted in three phases. However, in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry the voting was held in a single phase. It was the first major set of elections held in the middle of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic after the Bihar local elections conducted last year.
Experts blamed the huge participation in these elections as one of the reasons behind the spread of COVID-19 infection.
Two high courts came down heavily on the ECI for not taking proper action to ensure COVID-19 guidelines were followed during voting and campaigning by political parties. The courts held the ECI responsible for spreading the ongoing second wave of COVID-19.
Officials said in view of the ongoing second wave of pandemic and with a view to ensure completely COVID-19 safe arrangements during counting, the ECI has rolled out strict COVID-19 protocols for the counting day.
At the entry of counting centers, thermal scanning of all persons was being carried out and sanitizer, soap and water have been made available, officials said.
No person with symptoms of COVID-19 like fever or cold is allowed to enter the counting halls.
"As per the safety measures, no candidates or poll agents are being allowed inside the counting hall without undergoing RT-PCR or Rapid Antigen Test. However, those who have been administered both the doses of COVID-19 vaccination have been allowed," the official said. "The commission has also prohibited public gathering outside the counting venue during the process of counting."
The ECI last week ordered a ban on all victory processions on the day of or after counting of votes for the states, in view of the surge in COVID-19 cases throughout the country.
India's COVID-19 tally reached 19,557,457 on Sunday, with a single day spike of 392,488 cases, said the federal health ministry.
As many as 3,689 deaths were recorded since Saturday morning, taking the total death toll to 215,542.
India is witnessing a resurgence in COVID-19 cases and the second wave of the pandemic has caused a shortage of oxygen and essential medicines in the country's hospitals.