False claims, conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and Taiwan’s elections

False claims, conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and Taiwan’s elections

In the run-up to Taiwan’s local government elections on Nov. 26, false claims and conspiracy theories about voting and the COVID-19 pandemic have swirled on social media and messaging apps.

Although Taiwan has seen its new COVID-19 cases abate considerably in recent weeks, misleading stories about the pandemic still permeated social media feeds with the intent to pervert the will of voters before the election.

Image: People line up to cast their votes on election day in Taipei, Taiwan, November 26, 2022. REUTERS/Ann Wang

Wearing disposable rubber gloves will invalidate a ballot

This false claim fabricated by conspiracy theorists has been debunked by fact checkers at the Taiwan FactCheck Center (TFC).

According to the Central Election Commission (CEC), whether a person wears gloves to vote is their personal preference, and therefore legal and will not invalidate a ballot.

Health experts, meanwhile, have stressed that as long as voters wear their face masks and observe social distancing at polling stations, the risk of catching COVID-19 should not be of much concern.

Polling stations are COVID-19 disasters waiting to happen

This is another fabricated lie that had many people rightly worried about going out to vote in the Nov. 26 elections.

In order to ensure that voting was safe and secure, alcohol sanitizers were made readily available at each polling station, while disinfection was carried out periodically every hour at the voting sites.

Hsieh Szu-min (謝思民), an attending physician at National Taiwan University Hospital’s Infectious Disease Division, told TFC recently that the risk of catching COVID-19 at a polling station is no greater than going shopping at a department store or supermarket.

Practicing good COVID-19 hygiene is the best way to stay safe, Hsieh explained.

Wear a face mask in crowded, indoor situations, while observing physical distancing (staying at least two meters apart from others) is an important part of coronavirus protection, Yen Mu-yung Yen (顏慕庸), a physician specializing in infectious diseases at Cheng Hsin General Hospital, added.

Taiwan has already moved to the path of coexisting with the COVID-19 virus, and as such the public should not be too overly frightened to go to the polls, Cheng said prior to the Nov. 26 elections. 

Shin Kong Memorial Wu Ho-Su Hospital vice superintendent Hung Tzu-jen (洪子仁), however, advised people against wearing gloves to the polls.

If people are concerned about the risk of catching COVID-19 due to touching the shared items at polling stations, all they have to do is to sanitize their hands with alcohol after casting their ballots, Hung assured. 

Gloves can give a false sense of safety and protection

Yen, meanwhile, said voting with disposable gloves does not necessarily mean it is safer. 

Oftentimes, people wearing gloves may feel so comfortable with the barrier that is created that they touch everything without much thought, including their face, which is a common way for germs to enter the body and cause infections, he said.

If the person wearing the gloves touches another surface, they can spread those germs to those surfaces, the physician added, indicating that disposing of the gloves also meant excessive garbage that posed a huge burden on the environment.

Gloves are not a substitute for handwashing. The best way to keep the hands clean and germ-free is to wash them frequently with soap and water or use alcohol hand sanitizer, the health experts concluded. 

In the Nov. 26 elections, COVID-19 patients and their close contacts were barred from going to the polls if they were still in quarantine, according to the CEC.

The regulations pertaining to the protection of human health against the spread of transmissible diseases are laid out in Constitutional Interpretation No. 690, which was handed down by the Council of Grand Justice in 2011, the CEC has said in a statement prior to the elections.

Currently, Taiwan does not allow people in COVID-19 isolation to cast absentee ballots or vote at designated polling places.