LONDON (Reuters) - England will go ahead with local elections on May 6 despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the government said on Friday, citing the success of its vaccine rollout and announcing a range of additional safeguards to make voting flexible and secure.
The elections, which decide thousands of positions in local governments and other roles, had been under review due to the coronavirus, with England currently in a state of lockdown that is expected to last at least another month.
But on Friday the government said it had decided to go ahead, albeit with a series of special measures including more flexible rules on proxy voting and telling voters they should bring their own pens to mark ballot papers.
"Democracy should not be cancelled because of COVID," said Constitution Minister Chloe Smith.
The government announced that all nine groups on its initial COVID-19 vaccination priority list would have been offered their first shot by May, setting a new deadline in the programme.
Local elections usually give some signal as to the public's happiness with the current central government, although specific local issues are often also influential meaning the results are not a direct proxy of national sentiment.
Thousands of seats in local government across England will be decided as well as regional mayors - including the high profile London mayor - and police commissioners in both England and Wales. Some of the polls were delayed from May 2020.
Elections to the devolved Scottish and Welsh parliaments are due to take place on the same day, but they are administered separately and not covered by Friday's announcement.
(Reporting by Michael Holden; Writing by William James; Editing by Costas Pitas and Alex Richardson)