New Delhi: Amid rising coronavirus cases, the Election Commission on Friday flagged instances of star campaigners and political leaders not wearing masks while campaigning, and asked them to follow in all seriousness the guidelines on COVID-appropriate behaviour issued by it last year.

In a letter to leaders of all recognised political parties, the poll panel said, “It is widely known that in the recent weeks, COVID cases are being reported in larger numbers. However, instances of election meetings/campaigns have come to the notice of the commission, where norms of social distancing, wearing of masks have been flouted in disregard to the commission’s guidelines.”

The letter pointed out instances of star campaigners and political leaders or candidates not observing COVID-19 protocols, “including non-wearing of masks themselves at stage or while campaigning”.

“By doing so, the political parties and candidates are exposing themselves as well as the public attending such election meetings to the grave danger of the infection,” the letter said.

In cases of breach, the Election Commission (EC) said it will “not hesitate in banning public meetings, rallies of defaulting candidates, star campaigners or political leaders without any further reference.”

On Thursday, the Delhi High Court had sought the commission’s and the central government’s response on use of masks during poll campaigns.

While three phase polls in Assam and single phase elections in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry are over, five of the eight phases are yet to be held in West Bengal.

The poll panel said it has taken “serious view of the laxity” in following norms, particularly not wearing masks and not maintaining social distancing by political leaders on dais or stage.

It asked parties to follow its guidelines with all seriousness.

The two-page letter said it is advisable that political leaders and candidates, who have the incumbent duty to control spread of COVID-19, demonstrate by their personal example.

They must push all their supporters in the beginning of a rally, meetings or a campaign to wear masks and use sanitisers, and put in place crowd control measures as per social distancing norms, according to the letter.

“Political parties, leaders, campaigners, candidates, existing or aspiring policy makers are expected to be torch-bearers for the campaign against COVID and hence, are expected to not only set an example by maintaining social distancing, wearing masks and following prescribed protocols but also by exhorting all the local formations who attend programmes to follow COVID protocols,” the letter read.

In October last year, the EC had taken a serious view of “utter violation” of social distancing norms during poll campaigning and leaders addressing public meetings without wearing masks in complete disregard of its August last year guidelines issued ahead of the Bihar assembly elections.