March 2 (UPI) -- Turnout in Israel was high despite precautions over the coronavirus and concerns of voter fatigue Monday as voters participated in national elections for the third time in less than a year.
Election officials said more than 27 percent of voters had cast a ballot by noon, marking the highest turnout since 1999 as the parties of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and political rival Benny Gantz squared off in another effort to break a stalemate that's frozen political progress.
Polls opened across Israel on Monday, five months after the previous vote failed to resolve the standoff.
Concerns were widespread that Israel's strict regulations on self-quarantining to battle the coronavirus would depress turnout -- 5,630 Israelis were confined to the their homes as part of national effort to prevents its spread.
Along with the 10,631 polling stations open for voters, 14 "pop-up" stations staffed by paramedics wearing protective suits and masks were created for quarantined residents. They were also required to wear masks and gloves and slip their ballots into a plastic bag before placing it into the ballot box.
Netanyahu sought to calm fears over the outbreak Monday, praising Israelis' determination to exercise their "great democratic right" to vote despite the adversity.
Voter fatigue was also feared after more than 68 percent of voters turned out in the first election last April and nearly 70 percent for the race in September.
Netanyahu, already Israel's longest-serving prime minister, has a corruption trial looming on March 17. He is still popular enough to have easily vanquished an internal challenge earlier and still has the ear of powerful foreign allies like U.S. President Donald Trump.
Polling prior to Monday's election showed Netanyahu's Likud Party had slightly increased its lead, but not enough to break a stalemate that has stymied the government for almost a year. An Arab-majority group has now grown to Israel's third-largest party and is expected to win more seats.
Gantz said he will accept the results of this election but added that he expects Netanyahu's allies to support his Blue and White Party once the prime minister's trial starts in a few weeks.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said Monday he felt "deep shame" that divisions among Israel's politicians have become so bad that they failed to form a coalition government over the past two national elections.
"I have an uneasy feeling, shame even," Rivlin said. "We just don't deserve this. We don't deserve another awful and grubby election campaign like the one that ends today and we don't deserve this never-ending instability."