Commissioner George Garcia
Commissioner George Garcia

THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) is confident of a higher voters' turnout in the polls on Monday, May 9, despite the implementation of strict health protocols on Election Day.

Commissioner George Garcia on Friday said they were hoping for a 75 to 80 percent voter turnout, adding that in past national elections 65 to 68 percent was already high.

"Hopefully, ngayon (this time) 75 percent or even 80 percent," he added.

"[These are] historic election[s]; we are going to elect the president and vice president of the country who will serve in the next six years."

Garcia noted that the interest of the public in Monday's polls is "high," considering the high number of candidates running for president, vice president, party-list seats and other positions.

There are 10 candidates for president, nine for vice president and more than 170 party-list spots.

Such interest is evident, Garcia pointed out, in the high turnout in the local absentee voting, which he said was a "blockbuster."

"And despite the pandemic, we have a lot of new voters, around 7 million. That alone is a big factor to increase the percentage of voters in the elections," he said.

According to Garcia, some 40,000 local absentee voting ballots have been delivered to the Comelec office.

A total of 84,357 voters have been allowed to avail of local absentee voting (LAV), which was held from April 27 to 29, 2022.

Garcia said there are a total of 67.4 registered voters nationwide, including local and overseas absentee voters.

There are 65.3 million domestic voters, 1.697 million overseas voters and more than 84,000 local absentee voters.

The May 9 elections are a "low risk" event where the coronavirus disease is concerned, according to a special adviser for Covid-19 response, as many Filipinos have been vaccinated against the virus, reducing the risk of possible severe infection.

This comes as the country prepares for its first-ever elections held amid the backdrop of the pandemic, which has so far infected more than 3.69 million Filipinos, killing 60,439 of them.

In a briefing also on Friday, National Task Force Against Covid-19 special adviser Dr. Teodoro Herbosa said even if many people would converge to polling precincts on Monday, he does not see a possible increase of cases after the elections even if some people develop mild symptoms.

"Mababa kasi ang ating test positivity rate, 1.3 percent, so ibig sabihin very low risk. Kita n'yo naman, napakarami ng ating political rallies, pero walang nare-report na outbreaks. So, very low ang incidence (We have a low test positivity rate of 1.3 percent, so this is very low risk. Proof of which is that we have lots of rallies, but there were no reported outbreaks. So, the incidence is very low)," Herbosa also said.

He added that the low number of cases could be credited to the high number of vaccinated individuals across the country, with around 68.3 million having been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

But Herbosa reminded the public to remain vigilant in following minimum health protocols such as masking and getting the first booster shot for the general public and the second booster shot for immunocompromised individuals.

He said those who will test positive for Covid-19 before May 9 will not be allowed to vote, while those who may experience symptoms on the day of the elections will be voting in an isolation voting precinct before being tested and sent to an isolation facility.

Herbosa also reminded those who are planning to go to miting de avance rallies on Saturday to properly wear their masks, and for those senior citizens and those with comorbidities to just stay in their homes and watch the proceedings.

He reiterated that the government will not push for a stricter lockdown if and when cases increase after the elections, as the country has opted to implement the Alert Level system where granular lockdowns will be implemented in areas with high cases.

"So, hindi dapat mangamba iyong ating mga kababayan. Mas naiintindihan na natin itong sakit na ito. May bakuna pa kaya kita naman natin [na] epektibo talaga iyong bakuna... kailangan tuluy-tuloy lang. Isuot natin iyong ating masks at kung may sintomas ay maglagi na lang sa bahay, huwag nang lumabas (Our countrymen should not get worried, we now understand this disease better. There is a vaccine already and we see that it is effective... We just need to continue wearing our masks and remain in our homes if we feel sick," according to Herbosa.

Cases of Covid-19 in the country continue to hover around 200 cases per day, but the OCTA Research group warned that it may reach around 5,000 to 10,000 cases if a highly infectious subvariant of the virus arrives in the country.

The country has so far reported its first subvariant case from a 52-year-old Finnish woman who tested positive in April and was later found to have the BA.2.12 subvariant.

The Department of Health also on Friday said all close contacts of the woman remained asymptomatic, with six local contacts testing negative, and the others not being tested as they were asymptomatic.

Of the 30 airplane close contacts, three have left for their home countries, while no other close contacts were identified.