The government is introducing a new personalised exemption card for people who have genuine reasons for not being able to wear a face mask.

People will be able to access the card from the end of May, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins and Minister for Disability Issues Carmel Sepuloni announced today.

Hipkins said, “face masks are a crucial part of our defence against the spread of Covid-19 and using them will continue to help protect loved ones and save lives”. 

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, he said. 

“For the business community, the new cards will mean evidence that a person with the new card is exempt from the requirement to wear a mask, removing uncertainty that businesses have been dealing with.

The government has recognised that for some people, an impairment, health conditions, a physical disability or mental health reasons can mean wearing a mask isn’t possible, he said.

“These reasons aren’t always obvious or easy to explain and that’s left some New Zealanders who are genuinely unable to wear a mask not being able to access the businesses and services they normally would. 

“It has 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,” Hipkins said.

Workers, especially those in retail settings, have experienced escalating and unsafe behaviour from some customers when it came to verifying whether people were genuinely exempt from wearing masks, he said.

“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.” 

The current exemption cards available are still usable, but will not be legally recognised as conclusive proof of a person’s exempt status. 

The new cards will be legally recognised and remain entirely optional.

New card available end of May

From the end of May, people will be able to apply for a card through the Ministry of Health website and it will be issued to them digitally or by post.

A toll-free 0800 number will also be available for those who are unable to apply online.

Sepuloni said, “it’ll also cater for those who need interpreter or translation services when requesting their card”.

It is difficult for some people to wear a mask and it’s important for everyone to understand this and have inclusive policies that keep everyone as safe as possible, she said. 

“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 goods and services.” 

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