The Hong Kong government has announced that September’s parliamentary elections will be postponed by one year, citing a rise in COVID-19 infections.

“The announcement I have to make today is the most difficult decision I’ve had to make in the past seven months,” the city’s leader Carrie Lam said during a news conference, according to the Associated Press.

She added that “we want to ensure fairness and public safety and health, and need to make sure the election is held in an open, fair and impartial manner. This decision is therefore essential.”

The opposition has accused the government of using the pandemic as a pretext to impede people’s choice and the right to vote in the Legislative Council elections, initially scheduled for September 6, in a moment when Hong Kong is reporting more than 100 new infections daily, for almost two weeks.

The postponement of the elections came a day after the government banned 12 pro-democracy candidates, including the activist, Joshua Wong, and incumbent lawmakers Dennis Kwok and Alvin Yeung, from running in the upcoming elections.

“This postponement is entirely made based on public safety reasons, there were no political considerations,” Lam added.

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