THE health advice of wearing a mask to stop the spread of the coronavirus is well known, but there is some confusion regarding the law.
When the government issues a public health order, such as wearing masks, it is law and designed to protect the broader community.
The law does provide some exceptions for children under the age of 12, people with a physical or mental condition or people with a disability, which prevents them from wearing a mask.
Acting Inspector Ryan Froml from Hunter Local Area Command, said as a community “we’re all in this together to keep people safe” and urges the community to adhere to mask wearing.
“Last year during the pandemic, we were all about educating the public, but now we are moving to enforcement,” Froml explained.
“Some people can be confused about when to wear a mask, but if you are in doubt, wear the mask,” he said.
“Police are here to protect the community and if there is a good reason for an exemption we will always consider those circumstances on a case by case basis, but the expectation now is people need to be wearing masks and we now need to start enforcing that in the community,”Acting Inspector Froml said.
Joplin Higgins OAM, from Joplin Lawyers, explained while some people may be exempt from mask wearing it is a good idea to have a current letter from your medical practitioner stating why you are unable to wear a mask.
“The laws are about the public interest and the greater good of the community at large,” said Ms Higgins.
“Absolutely, there may be individuals who won’t be able to comply with the orders, but it’s all about the greater good of the community,” she said.
“If someone does have a genuine medical reason for not wearing a mask then they should have a current letter from their treating medical practitioner, which clearly and succinctly states what the issue is and why they could not comply from a medical standpoint,” she said.
“They should carry it with them at all times and limit the amount of exposure they have in public, not only in the interests of the wider public, but in the interests of themselves as well,” Joplin Higgins said.
Dr Richard Abbott said he is now wearing a mask all the time, because it complies with the law and more importantly offers protection from the virus.
“Aerosol transmission is occurring with this highly contagious strain, so social distancing and mask wearing are critical,” said Dr Abbott.
“I’ve worn masks for six hours at a time without taking them on and off with no issues, people do not have to worry about problems with C02 that only occurs when you are in a sealed chamber, masks by their nature allow the CO2 to vent away out of the mask, so they don’t pose any risk,” he said.
“If someone believes they are exempt from wearing a mask, they should make an appointment with their doctor and would need a very strong reason,” he said.
“Mask wearing does provide protection for the person wearing the mask and the people around them, so any doctor would be reluctant to issue a medical certificate unless there were legitimate reasons for not wearing a mask,” he said.
“We’ve seen how effective masks can be last cold and flu season, people were socially distancing and wearing masks and the rates of cold and flus went down.
“The important thing is to wash your hands before and after using the mask and dispose of the mask properly, it’s pretty gross to see masks in the street, a bit like tissues,” he said.
“If they are a cloth mask wash and dry them thoroughly between use and always wash your hands before and after wearing the mask,” Dr Richard Abbott explained.
- Businesses can ask a person to leave their premises.
- Businesses can ask for police assistance if a person refuses to leave.
- Police can ask for evidence to show you meet the criteria of exemption for wearing a mask.
- Police can give a directive to “move on” and it is an offence not to comply with the direction.
- If you are fined and wish to dispute it, you can take the matter to court and you may need to be provide evidence that you meet the exemption criteria to the court.
For more information on mask wearing and the law visit: NSW Government Face Mask Rules.