Voting has started in Spain's north-eastern Catalonia as 5.3 million voters are called to cast their ballots in an election that will test the region's secessionist movement.

Salvador Illa, who was in charge of Spain's coronavirus response as its health minister until last month, will lead the ticket of the Socialist Party of
Mr Illa is hoping to end the hold that pro-independence politicians have held in the regional parliament for the past decade.

Polls, however, predict a tight race between the Socialists and the two leading pro-secession parties, the left-wing Republic Left of Catalonia and the centre-right Together for Catalonia.

The goal of separatists is to not only maintain their slim majority of the Catalan parliament based in Barcelona, but also to try to break the 50% barrier of the popular vote for the first time.

HeraldScotland:

The wealthy region, with its own language spoken alongside Spanish, has been the source of Spain's biggest political crisis in decades since separatist leaders failed in a 2017 secession bid in defiance of court warnings that it was unconstitutional. Several of those leaders ended up in prison, while others fled to other European countries.

With Spain still suffering from a post-Christmas spike in coronavirus infections, the vote is being held under strict health regulations. Voters must wear face masks, use the hand disinfectant provided at polling stations, and remain at least 1.5 metres apart while queuing.

Those particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 are encouraged to vote between 9am and noon. The general population is supposed to vote from noon until 7pm. That leaves the final hour until polls close at 8pm for voters who are either infected or quarantined due to recent contact with an infected person.