Protective masks, normally used for surgery, are now in use to fight COVID-19. Picture: Mika Baumeister
Protective masks, normally used for surgery, are now in use to fight COVID-19. Picture: Mika Baumeister

Elderly couple left ‘terrified’ after mask encounter

A woman says her elderly Mackay parents were left "terrified" after a police officer questioned them about their medical exemptions while they were shopping without masks at Caneland Central.

Liesl Sahin said her parents were shopping on March 31 when the police officer approached and questioned why they were not wearing masks and asked to see their proof of medical exemptions.

Ms Sahin said both her parents had medical exemptions to not wear face masks because of health issues.

"My mother has had cancer of the mouth," she said.

"She cannot wear a mask because she can't even speak.

"I got home to a very hysterical mother who had been approached by a policeman in Caneland who basically said to them, 'what's your medical exemption?'.

"And then (he) threatened to take them to the courthouse or the police station, their choice, if they didn't tell him.

"I hit the roof when I heard this."

Ms Sahin said she called Mackay police to complain after seeing her mother visibly upset by the experience.

"They've been terrified to go shopping since," she said.

A Queensland Police Service spokesman said officers were continuing to take a communication and compassion-based approach to mask compliance, including within the Mackay district.

"If a member of the public is observed by police without a mask, officers will ask the person to wear a mask and if they are carrying spares, offer a mask to that individual," the spokesman said.

"However, if a person refuses to wear a mask, they can face a $200 fine.

"Members of the public are thanked for their ongoing compliance with the current COVID-19 restrictions and requirements."

The Queensland government website states you do not need a medical certificate to prove you have a lawful reason for not wearing a face mask.

"If a service provider, school or employer asks for a medical certificate to confirm you have a lawful medical reason for not wearing a mask before entering their premises, this may amount to unlawful discrimination," it states.

Ms Sahin contacted Dawson MP George Christensen and Mirani MP Stephen Andrew about the alleged incident.

Shoppers at Caneland Central. Picture: Melanie Whiting
Shoppers at Caneland Central. Picture: Melanie Whiting

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Mr Christensen said he had personally followed the matter up with the local superintendent.

"We had a conversation about it and he confirmed that his directive to police is to act with compassion in these circumstances," he said.

"But everyone should be aware, including police, that if there's a medical reason you are exempt from wearing your mask, no one has the right to request to see what that medical reason is.

"Everyone just needs to be respectful of people's privacy."

Mr Andrew said confusion and conflict around face masks had peaked.

"As a direct result, people are not going out to shop or looking at shopping at odd hours for fear of persecution or getting it wrong," he said.

"The elderly are suffering depression from lack of understanding, unfortunately my own mother is one of these people.

"The government need to keep it sensible and easy to understand."

A Queensland Health spokesman said it was mandatory for people to carry a mask at all times and to wear that mask indoors, and outdoors when you can't socially distance, until April 15 2021.

"Face masks have proven effective in preventing the transmission of COVID-19, especially in crowded areas," he said.

"Masks do not need to be worn in some circumstances, including those who have a certain medical condition.

"At this time, there is no formal requirement for those with certain medical conditions to provide evidence, but we're trusting all Queenslanders to do the right thing."

Find out more information about COVID-19 and human rights here.

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