Wednesday, May 29, 2024

New mask exemption card unmasked

People who have genuine reasons for not being able to wear a face mask will be able access a new personalised exemption card from the end of May.

Minister for COVID-19 Response, Chris Hipkins and Minister for Disability Issues, Carmel Sepuloni announced the new exemption card today, saying face masks continued to be a crucial park of New Zealand’s defence against the spread of COVID-19.

“The new process is being introduced to make sure people who have genuine reasons for not being able to wear a mask have more certainty in being able to demonstrate that,” said Minister Shaw.

He said the new cards will provide evidence that a person with the card is exempt from the requirement to wear a mask, removing uncertainty that businesses have been dealing with during the pandemic.

“We’ve recognised that for some people an impairment, health conditions, a physical disability or mental health reasons can mean wearing a mask isn’t possible. These reasons aren’t always obvious or easy to explain and that’s left some New Zealanders who’re genuinely unable to wear a mask not being able to access the businesses and services they normally would,” said Mr Shaw.

“It’s also meant uncomfortable situations, with people needing to explain private health information to strangers, when they’re trying to do basic tasks like shopping. We’ve worked hard to find a solution which avoids this.”

The new process will be administered by the Ministry of Health and allow people who can’t wear a mask to get a personalised card to help them access businesses and services where wearing a mask is required, the Minister said.

“The new card will also help businesses. Sadly, in attempting to verify whether people are genuinely exempt, workers – especially those in retail settings such as supermarkets – have experienced escalating and unsafe behaviour from some customers.”

“This new process gives assurance that when someone presents this card, they’re genuinely exempt.   COVID-19 Orders will be amended to provide that the new card is conclusive proof that someone is exempt,” said Mr Hipkins.

He said the new cards will be entirely optional – but will be legally recognised as conclusive proof of a person’s exempt status, which the old cards were not.

“We will not be cancelling the old cards or requiring affected people to go through the process of getting a new card if they don’t want to, however the old cards will not have the legitimacy of the new cards.”

Minister Sepuloni said that from the end of May, people will be able to apply for a card through the Ministry of Health website. It will then be issued to them digitally or by post.

An 0800 call free number will also be available and will cater for those who need interpreter or translation services when requesting their card, she said. 

“I particularly want to acknowledge the work of organisations such as Blind Citizens New Zealand, the Disabled Persons Assembly, Deaf Aotearoa and other non-government organisations who have administered the mask exemption process previously. Mask wearing remains an important public health measure to reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 transmission and keep us all safe,” said Ms Sepuloni.

“It’s important we all understand that for some people wearing a face mask is difficult. This includes people with physical, intellectual or mental health impairments, and people (such as some victims of violent crime) who have experienced past trauma.  Those people should still have the same right as others to access good and services.

“This policy change promotes this important message, and also creates a new approach to accessing exemptions through the Ministry of Health.

“What’s been developed through extensive consultation is a balanced approach which is accessible for exempt people, gives businesses certainty and also makes it harder for others who might try to undermine the process,” she said.

People unable to wear a mask and who already have a non-personalised exemption card issued by the Ministry of Health or the Disabled Persons Assembly, can continue using that card, the Minister said.

“The difference is that the old cards do not have legal standing and can be questioned. The new cards will provide proof of exemption.”

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