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"Putting lives at risk." Karl Stefanovic's heated confrontation with the Queensland Premier.

On Saturday, Queenslanders took to the polls for the state’s local government election.

This is despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to tight restrictions on social gatherings and calls for everyone – but especially elderly people – to stay home.

Although the advice has long been to practice social distancing to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, the Electoral Commission of Queensland insisted Saturday’s election still go ahead on the advice from the Chief Health Officer.

On Sunday night, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced stricter self-isolation measures. Post continues below video.

Video via 9News

It was compulsory to vote, and Queenslanders who did not do so risked a $133 fine.

Speaking to Today on Monday morning, the state’s premier Annastacia Palaszczuk defended the decision to go ahead with the election.

“When we talk about these strict quarantine measures that are in place, Scott Morrison coming out last night saying no more than two people gather, it makes it pretty hard to believe that Saturday’s vote in Queensland went ahead,” host Karl Stefanovic said.

“We saw vision of elderly people walking out of the voting booth. How was that not putting lives at risk?”

In response, Palaszczuk said the advice from her chief health officer stated it was safe to hold the election.

“Those elections are done and dusted and tomorrow I have a phone hookup with all of the mayors across Queensland because I need to brief them on the coronavirus and I need them working in their communities to make sure their communities are safe as well,” she said.

“Would you have been happy to send your elderly relatives to a voting booth on Saturday?” she was asked.

“Absolutely, because the clear advice was… You are OK to go and vote because it was safe to do so. The health officer said that.”

“We are listening to the experts here. I took the advice of the Chief Medical Officer. You can go on about this at length, but if you are not listening to the experts who are you listening to? I am not making these decisions on the run. I am listening to the health officer. If they told me to cancel the election, I would have cancelled them.”

She said visiting to the voting booth was “much safer,” than “going to Dan Murphys or going to a crowded supermarket where everyone is jostling each other”.

Questioned about what she was saying about the safety of bottle shops and supermarkets, the premier said she meant everyone should abide by social distancing measures.

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“What I am saying is people need to adhere by the social distancing measures which have been put in place, which is 1.5 metres, and the jostling and everything needs to stop. You can’t have contact with people, alright? You need to keep your distance.”

She said she needed mayors in place across Queensland ahead of her meeting tomorrow, which was to tackle the COVID-19 response across the state and ensure remote areas have the medical equipment required.

“It bites you, doesn’t it?” Stefanovic asked of the criticism Palaszczuk has faced over the election decision.

“No, it doesn’t because I have to accept the advice. Now, also too, we had a large number of postal votes by people and a lot of postal votes by people and a lot of elderly people had the
opportunity to either talk to someone through the Electoral Commission and do their vote and do postal votes as well, Karl.

“So the elections are done and dusted, they are over, thank goodness. Now let’s get on with making sure that we are protecting people’s lives now and into the future.”

Queenslanders are expected to vote against in the state election in October, although Palaszczuk said there was no telling how this would play out in the next few months.

Queensland’s total number of coronavirus cases is now at 656, with three deaths.

The latest death was a 75-year-old woman who had been one of the passengers aboard the Ruby Princess cruise ship. It’s believed she contracted the virus before guests were allowed to disembark in Sydney.

queensland local election coronavirus
Image: Channel 9.

On Friday before the state's local elections took place, Today hosts Stefanovic and Allison Langdon criticised the decision to allow them to go ahead.

The decision was called "downright dangerous" by Langdon.

"This is something I cannot believe this morning," she said on air.

"Queensland is pressing ahead with [Saturday]'s local council elections. This is at a time when we are pleading with people, 'Stay home, limit your movements.' Why hasn’t Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk called this off? It doesn’t seem right," Langdon said.

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"I think it is downright dangerous and it's a decision that could cost lives, because if you don't turn up you could cop a fine of $133."

Her co-host Karl Stefanovic described the decision as "shocking".

Reporter Dominique Loudon explained safety measures put in place for the elections later in show: Hand sanitiser would on site, booths would be cleaned regularly, voters were told to bring their own pencils and no more than 100 people were allowed inside buildings at any one time.

In response to the Today hosts' Friday comments, Palaszczuk's office shared a statement with the show.

"According to their chief health officer, their response is that people were more at risk going to the supermarket [than] to their local council election," Langdon read out.

"I don't know, what are you saying there? That our supermarkets aren't safe and we shouldn't be going there? I don't think much of that response."

"The whole thing has been handled appallingly," Stefanovic replied. "It needs to not happen... This just flies in the face of the very advice you're putting out there."

To protect yourself and the community from COVID-19, keep at least 1.5 metres away from other people, regularly wash your hands and avoid touching your face.

If you are sick and believe you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your GP ahead of time to book an appointment. Or call the national Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice on 1800 020 080. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 000. 

To keep up to date with the latest information, please visit the Department of Health website.

The current situation around COVID-19 might be making you feel scared or uncertain. It's okay to feel this way, but it's also important to learn how to manage feelings of anxiety during this time. To download the free PDF: Anxiety & Coronavirus - How to Manage Feelings of Anxiety click here.

Read more on COVID-19

Feature image: Channel 9.

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