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New mask exemption cards

Victims may find wearing a mask during the Covid pandemic triggers traumatic memories and sensations of abuse and invasion of personal space from prior crime and trauma. We are aware of victims facing shame, humiliation and disbelief as they have had to explain to businesses why they are legitimately exempt from wearing a mask.

We are pleased that the Ministry of Health has announced that a new card providing conclusive legal proof of mask exemption will soon be available for those who are unable to wear a mask during the Covid pandemic. Victim Support has been instrumental in making this exemption process easier for victims.

Earlier this year the Ministry of Health consulted Victim Support and other stakeholders about improving the mask exemption process for people with health and disability conditions that prevent them from wearing masks. Principal Advisor, Victim Advocacy and Research, Petrina Hargrave, argued for the criteria to centre around supporting those who are legitimately exempt rather than prosecuting the few who may attempt to flout the rules, and for any changes to be accompanied by education for businesses.

“Victims already face a strong victim-blaming culture, so we didn’t want victims to have to justify why they are exempt and face not being believed all over again,” said Petrina. “We also wanted people in shops and businesses to be educated that you can’t always tell by looking at someone whether they are a victim or suffer from a health condition or disability, and that questioning someone’s right to not wear a mask can be revictimising.”

MoH has announced that the new exemption cards would be conclusive legal proof of a person’s exemption and therefore remove the burden for them to have to justify this. Businesses may ask a cardholder to show identification but they will be asked to be pragmatic about this. Businesses who deny entry on the sole basis that a person carrying a card is not wearing a mask are likely to be breaching the Human Rights Act and may be subject to complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal.

“This is a big step forward for victim-centric policy because it recognises that putting the affected community at the heart is what benefits our community the most,” said Petrina. “It was great to see the Ministry listen to community advocates and switch the emphasis of this policy to empowering those who are legitimately exempt.”

The new cards will be available through the MoH website or phoneline from late May. Use of the cards is optional and all previous cards issued will remain valid.  However, only the new card will provide conclusive legal proof of exempt status.