Retailers say staff face increasing levels of abuse from customers suspected of fraudulently alleging health reasons for not wearing a mask.
Meanwhile, disability advocates say vulnerable people with legitimate exemptions are traumatized by being denied access to stores.
Last month, the government announced that face covers were now mandatory for those 12 and older on public transportation and in stores.
But what is not known is that people with certain physical or mental conditions do not have to disguise themselves.
You can request a waiver card to show people if it is challenged, but you don’t need to carry one; You only need to meet the criteria set forth in the health orders.
Retail NZ CEO Greg Harford said the problem of aggressive unmasked customers has gotten worse.
He said there have been many unpleasant incidents.
“What we are finding is that there are a lot of people who are fraudulently claiming to have a mask exemption, and people are getting really quite abusive and aggressive towards retail workers when [they’re] asking them to put on a mask. “
Last week, a worker for a Blenheim organization that provides photocopying services told RNZ that they responded to dozens of requests to print illegitimate exemption documents in a single day.
The groups also provide information online on how to exploit the system to obtain a card.
New Zealand Disability Assembly Executive Director Prudence Walker said she was left speechless because people were abusing the system.
Security Association executive director Gary Morrison said retailers and security personnel were increasingly caught in the middle.
“That puts security personnel in an extremely difficult situation, because then they are forced to try to determine if that person is genuine or not.”
“And that’s when you get into the situation of potentially discriminating against people.”
Morrison said guards could ask to see a mask exemption card, but nothing more.
You also don’t need proof, like a medical certificate, to get an exemption card.
Disabled Person’s Assembly NZ is one of the main organizations in charge of managing exemptions. It has awarded 8000 in the last two months.
Walker said there has been a recent spike in illegitimate attempts to obtain documentation.
Meanwhile, he said that many people with legitimate exemptions have told his organization that they have been intimidated into revealing incredibly personal information to convince merchants to let them into their stores without a mask.
An Auckland man RNZ is calling Jay said he was feeling traumatized after being banned from a supermarket.
“My heart sank, and my legs felt shaky, and I struggled for breath. Mentally, I was devastated to be honest. I didn’t think they would say no.
“The person at the door went to the phone with the store manager, and I guess I was still hoping he would come back with a yes, but it was still a no.”
Jay said he has hardly ventured since the incident.
Harford said the rules were confusing and had not been well communicated.
He and Morrison are demanding that the government make the presentation of proof of an exemption mandatory.
“That would eliminate a lot of these kinds of situations that a lot of people find themselves in.”
The Health Ministry said it was disappointed to hear reports of the misuse of exemption cards or the creation of counterfeit versions.
He urged people to be respectful to those who have legitimate reasons for not covering their faces.